The Ever-increasing Speed of Learning

It’s the year 1996 and I decide to learn Photoshop. I go to a bookshop and find the IT department. It’s the biggest section in the store with shelves shaped like a horseshoe and fat middle-aged men sat around the tables devouring their chosen book. I find the book I want. It’s as heavy as a brick and I start to read. It recommends prior knowledge in graphic design, colour, photography and Apple Macs, so I add another four books to my list. Illustrator, printing and branding are all connected to my goal which means another four books. Oh, and don’t forget the advantages of scripting, which you’ll grasp if you’ve already dabbled in Java. Finally you’ll want to showcase your work so add website, Dreamweaver and HTML. I look up gaze around at the lifetime’s worth of books that I’ve clocked up since arriving an hour ago.

You’ll get lost in the dungeon of learning unless you map out how to become an expert in that ‘one topic’ you endeavour to master and avoid the many dead-ends.

Today I have a healthier understanding of what I need to learn in order to reach my goal. I visualise this pattern of learning as if I’m walking down into a dungeon, a metaphor for the subject that I want to learn. At the bottom of the stairs is a network of corridors that lead to the topics that make up the subject. I choose one corridor that leads to another opening of 100 doors. The overall process requires me to go through each door, learn the content of the room and move onto another door. Due to my unconscious-incompetency I don’t realise that once I go through one door into a room, another ten doors lead off that room and each of those rooms lead off to yet another ten doors. You’ll get lost in the dungeon of learning unless you map out how to become an expert in that ‘one topic’ you endeavour to master and avoid the many dead-ends.

I’ve always loved learning new things, but can get distracted with other new things. Linked In Learning has the same effect as the bookstore and when I hear a presenter ending their course with, “Check out my other videos such as…,” I add another three courses to my ‘saved list’ for every course I complete. Does this remind you of social media’s infinite scroll?

Hop a decade backwards to the 1980’s when computers first arrived at school. I was part of the generation who arranged to meet up with friends without mobiles to communicate, navigated to a place without sat-nav and got up off the couch to change TV channel without a remote. I started learning in a time without these technologies, then experienced the rapid change into a society that survives on technology to make everything more efficient and faster. I’m grateful for the ability, variety and speed of learning in modern times, but I’m equally grateful for my understanding of how we used to learn things thirty years ago. I see the generation before me who struggle to keep up with the advancement of technology and see the generation after me who miss out on the soft-skills we acquired in the absence of online communication.

If we can’t achieve something with hard work, then we use filters and photoshop to unrealistically colour our published showreel lives.

Today you need everything – you need the skills to learn 15 books in a day and the patience to meditate, relax and manage stress. We trump each other’s performance with with nootropics, concentration apps, detailed nutrition and muscle building apps for that short-cut to perfection. We learn to speed read, skim read and fast-cram books. We even watch online training videos at double speed if we can handle it. If we can’t achieve something with hard work, then we use filters and photoshop to unrealistically colour our published showreel lives.

We know that the brain has not been able to evolve quick enough to keep up with the rapid advancement of today’s lifestyle. It’s hard to imagine that there will be such a change in human evolution that technology has brought us since the 1980’s, but I understand this is me being naive. What about brain implants? This would allow us to download the whole of the book store into our minds as if we were in The Matrix.

It feels like the world is waiting for that ‘next big thing’. All the best ideas have been thought of. All the best inventions have been made. All the best films have been seen and all the best songs have been sung. Design is copied, rehashed and spat out time after time. Innovation is concentrated down that the same old ideas keep coming back in different disguises. For this we have the internet, the advancement of human communication and sharing of ideas to thank. On the one hand I’m ready to embrace the next technology revolution, but on the other I’m worried what we’ll leave behind as a result. Keep calm and learn as much as you can, otherwise you might get left in the proverbial dust.

Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

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