Learning but slowly

Apropos the use of AI in academia, a student asked me, “We want to work more quickly in the workplace, but do we really want to LEARN more quickly? Is that even possible?”

To the latter question, I would say yes, it’s possible. I know there are concepts that one can learn in a flash. Not all fields of learning are like this, though. Think of cooking, or learning how to play the saxophone; these activities exist within the flow of time, having their own pace that demands your accommodation. Real understanding here happens by accretion and duration; it doesn’t come to you in a flash (though some insights will).

I’ve quoted this story by Anne Lamott to Psychology students in my technical writing class struggling with literature reviews for their Honours projects:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

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