What’s so slow about slow learning?

I recently found these reflections on the term “Slow Learning” in a not so recent post by educational consultant and blogger Jenny Mackness.

I’m afraid I do not think the term ‘slow learning’ works as well. It brings up notions of being a ‘slow learner’, which has negative connotations. In addition, surely, particularly in this day and age, we want people to be fast learners – and by that I mean ‘more efficient’ learners. I honestly can’t see anything slowing down- so we need to be able to keep up. We need to be effective, efficient, efficacious and ethical learners.

The Adventures of Slow Learning Blog –  provides an answer to the question “What is Slow Learning?” – but I cannot see anything in the answer that relates to ‘slow’. I think what is written there is more a description of good teaching, or a possibly ideal learning environment, rather than a description of the learning process.

The resulting discussion (in the comments) makes me blush. Maybe I should explain myself.

When I first named my blog “slow learning” I was reacting to pressure accumulated over years  spent in classrooms. First as a student and later as a teacher, I rushed through curriculum designed to increase scores on high stakes tests. Far too many lessons felt like high pressure cram sessions. Learning seemed less like a journey and more like a shopping trip at a convenience store. Administration, teachers, students, parents all demanded quick results, as if learning were something one could throw (a little) money and (even less) time at. Point and click,  and be done with it.

The need for speed is understandable given the increasing pace of change in the world. But learning as a lifelong, life enriching process, takes time.

My reaction to all this pressure was to step back, take a some time, and look at what might happen if acceleration and fast results were not the driving force.

What if learners were encouraged to question, to meander, to experiment, to experience, to reflect?
What if graduation were not the end goal?
What if learners chose their own learning outcomes and definitions for success?
What if the goal of learning were learning itself?

On a personal level, I continue to ask myself: What if, regardless of my age, I always think of myself as a learner? What might happen when I share my learning process with a community beyond school? Answers to my questions might spur on more questions. Learning would be a pleasure worth savoring, worth sharing. For me, slow, deep, intentional, learning, driven by a spirit of adventure, curiosity and community engagement, would make a long life worth living, regardless of how fast the world turns.

When we define learning as a lifelong process, then learning, by definition, is slow.

I realize that  “slow learner” has negative connotations and the irony may offend some readers. And yet, I stand by “Slow Learning” partly because it mocks and challenges the contemporary bias for acceleration. Those deemed “slow learners”  are disenfranchised in many realms, perhaps most painfully in academia whose business (ironically) is learning. My intent (in part) is to  expose the label (slow learner) that excludes.

Thank you, Jenny Mackness, for sharing your doubts about Slow Learning. Learning from the reflection you share in your post will  continue to take time–time well spent.

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5 thoughts on “What’s so slow about slow learning?

  1. Hi Patricia, I have to say that despite my post I completely agree with you and have had exactly the same experience of stepping out of the fast lane.

    I still have my doubts about the word ‘slow’ and would probably be happier with a word like ‘deep’ or ‘reflective’ – or something that means ‘not superficial’.

    We still need to learn lots and be able to keep up with the pace of change, but the learning we do should, (and I agree with you on this), count for more than simply ticking off a box, getting a given grade or a piece of paper – although it can do this as well.

    So I think, essentially, we are on ‘the same page’.

    Glad to have found your blog 🙂

    Jenny

    1. And I’m glad to have found your blog as well, Jenny! Seriously, I’ve been thinking deeply (not slowly) about using another name. You’ve given me much to think about. Thank you.

  2. Reblogged this on ImagineACircle and commented:
    This is just a superb blog posting about… a lot of things that are hard to talk about and really nicely expressed here. also, keep exploring this blog as there are some excellent drawings too!

  3. Funny, but it was the word ‘Slow’ that really sparked my interest in your blog. Why? I get ‘Slow Food’, so I’m guessing ‘Slow Learning’ would be similar – deeper, more open, more encouraging of self-lead learning. I wouldn’t fret too much about the word ‘slow’. The people who would be in tune with ‘slow’ will get it. We are looking for something different – something deeper and more meaningful.

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