How long does it really take to learn something?

Today is Day 20 of 31 for 21.

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A few days ago I was at the park and I met a teacher of one of my daughters last year.  She told me she had seen dd13 at a community event a day or two before and she looked wonderful, and then asked how homeschooling was going.

I told her it was great, life feels much more enjoyable and it’s very gratifying to see how much she’s learning in such a short time.  In the six weeks since school officially started, three of those weeks were vacation days because of the holidays.  So in school they’re still reviewing skills based concepts from last year.  Meanwhile, in that same period of time when we also had lots of breaks for the holidays, dd has completed 3/4 of a year of math and is set to finish the next 1/4 in another week.

I said something about how efficient personalized learning can be, and her teacher agreed with me.  Then she told me something that I found stunning.  She teaches English in the upper elementary grades and said that what she teaches the girls could be taught one on one in two weeks.  I asked her to be sure I was understanding correctly: “That’s hard for me to believe.  You’re saying in two weeks you can teach what it would take you a year to teach in school?”  And she corrected me: “No, in two weeks of personal tutoring I can teach what it takes me three years to teach in school!”

I’m telling you, the conversations I have with teachers are the most affirming of homeschooling!

Today a blog reader sent me a TED talk that reminded me of this conversation.

The talk is called The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything, and the premise discussed was that learning a skill and being able to be functional takes about 20 hours.  This reminds me of an assertion by John Holt, that he could teach all of elementary math to a motivated middle schooler in a small number of hours.  (It’s been years since I read this book and think it was close to twenty hours but don’t remember specifically – if you know what I’m referring to, please share the specifics in the comments section and I’ll edit the post.)

The speaker outlines four steps for acquiring knowledge, which I thought was valuable :

  1. . Break down the skill to its main components.
  2. Learn enough to self-correct – learn enough that you can practice and correct yourself as you go along.
  3. Remove barriers to practice – eg distractions.
  4. Practice for at least twenty hours – stick with it long enough to see results and don’t allow yourself to get frustrated by feeling stupid.

To me this reinforces my belief that learning doesn’t need to be made intimidatingly difficult or complicated.  Thinking about learning something new in 20 hours takes a lot of fear out of the process and makes learning even more exciting.  My dd13 and ds11 watched this with me, and as soon as it was over, one looked at the other and said, “So what new thing are you going to learn?”  Dd told me she’d like to learn to draw more – my husband sporadically gives her lessons but she’d like something more regular – I did some quick online research and found some great resources for her that I’ll show her in the morning!


2 thoughts on “How long does it really take to learn something?

  1. If you can share the drawing resources (and continue to share all the other great resources you find out there) I would appreciate it!

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