What is Slow Learning?


In short, Slow Learning

  • promotes deep learning
  • crosses genres, disciplines
  • is grounded in the interests of the learner
  • champions the pleasures of learning
  • promotes inquiry and dialogue
  • lasts a lifetime
  • allows for authentic learning
  • seeks unmediated experiences
  • supports, and is supported by learning in community

Sound familiar?  In many ways, Slow Learning draws inspiration from

Slow Foodinformal education, unschoolers, deschoolers, and homeschoolers

and is joined by a movement of

edupunks, and other DIY Educators

Hey, Who You Calling Slow?

In no other context does the term “slow” carry a more negative charge than in education. To be labeled a “slow learner” is to be denigrated to very bottom of the achievement-hungry educational hierarchical heap. Even the Microsoft Word thesaurus offers stupid, thick, and dense as synonyms for slow. And yet, slow learning may be the best opportunity for a deep and meaningful lifelong education.

In public schools we celebrate those who catch on quickly and encourage those who learn to perform before others. We often neglect the achievement of students whose development or whose compliance with state-mandated standards is deemed by our impatient demands as behind schedule. Even worse, we label students, keep them from opportunities that encourage learning that is broader, deeper, richer. Even for students who jump through the hoops of formal education easily and quickly, the current greed for speed often cheapens learning experiences, resulting in shallow learning.

Slower learning adults, in the long run, have the advantage. An adult who learns at a slower pace, but continues to learn outside school walls, may realize opportunities that others never do. Slow learners can take on self-directed, community supported ventures in business, the arts, social justice, and other areas that may have little to do with their chosen field of specialization in school.

The intentionally slow learner controls of the pace and direction of learning. She is responsible for her own curriculum, the nature of her learning, her choice of teachers, mentors, community.  She chooses and is responsible for  the outcomes and the impact of her learning.

38 thoughts on “What is Slow Learning?

  1. Slow learning sounds good. I took my inspiration from the slow food movement and Guy Claxton’s book ‘Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind’ which deals with the idea of taking your time with some things. Working with teachers I talk about slowing down, reflecting, savouring the ideas and enjoying learning.

  2. Enjoying the fact that we have access to the unabridged OED online through the Toronto public library…

    a. Of a fire: That burns gently or slowly; gentle.
    b. Of an oven: of such a temperature that it cooks slowly.

  3. I have found that “forgetting” is an important part of learning, particularly if I want to learn something deeply, gaining an intuitive understanding rather than just superficial facts. I immerse myself in studying something and then at a certain point my brain says “no more!” and it becomes stressful and I don’t seem to be making any progress. So I leave it for a few days (or weeks, or months) and then come back to it when it is no longer stressful (the right time seems to be when I start dreaming about it). Then I may have forgotten many of the surface details but I find it is so much easier to understand and remember the material and I can go further before I reach the “no more!” point again. It is as though my brain is doing a huge amount of reorganizing, unconsciously, during those interstitial times. Traditional learning does not usually give you the opportunity to take breaks when you need them.

    1. Oh gosh, that describes me too. I think it comes from my obsessive tendencies; I want to immerse myself, suck the marrow out of a subject so I know it thoroughly. But that’s a bit overwhelming, mainly because I get to the point where I don’t understand anything, so I snap back and say “okay, it’s time to spend more time playing play-dough with my kids.” Then, weeks later, when I find myself curious about the subject again, I discover that I’ve digested all this deep understanding of the subject without really realising I was thinking about it.

      1. (and that, incidentally, is why I was labeled slow. Not slow as in delayed, but slow as in I need to keep up with everyone else. Now as an adult I look back at that and realise how ridiculous it all was — here, in their class, my teachers had a kid who was actually interested in things (not always my own things either, often it was what they were teaching). I wanted to dig deeper, stay on a subject for more than just one block, and they interpreted it as daydreaming or difficulty applying myself or something. Crazy.

  4. I am a adult with slow learner and it been really hard for me in keep a job and finish, and having friend so how do this help

  5. I’m an adult slow learner. I have difficulty learning new concepts. However when the penny drops I get such a buzz.

    The slow torturous hours of study can bear fruit.

  6. deep learning is slow learning, learning over time, learning sometimes without any other purpose other than to learn. Slow learning can be difficult, painful even as we continue to stretch and challenge ourselves. And slow learning can be very pleasurable too!

    1. Patricia, Are you the author of this blog? You are talking about me here. I have been a slow learner all my life and under-estimated at every turn until others get to know me. I’m about to launch a new endeavor whereby my competitive edge will be my slowness and my ability to go deep. I am living proof that what you say is a truth. How did you know this about the advantages of learning slowly?

      >> Slower learning adults, in the long run, have the advantage. An adult who learns at a slower pace, but continues to learn outside school walls, may realize opportunities that others never do. Slow learners can take on self-directed, community supported ventures in business, the arts, social justice, and other areas that may have little to do with their chosen field of specialization in school.<<

  7. Hello Joyce, It’s so good to hear about your learning journey. I am slowly learning about learning slowly. Watching others try to accelerate the learning of children in schools is what got me going on this idea initially. The results were often painful and fruitless. Deep learning over time, is the only way real learning seems to take place. I would love to hear more detail about your journey in slow learning.

    1. How should I go about telling you more? Are there others who are talking about this and if so where? I’d like my writing about this to be fruitful and offer hope to others. Any suggestions? Are we lone wolves out here?

  8. Slow learning causes me terrible pain. I find difficulty with every facade of my life. Being tied up in proverbial knots all the time can leve me shattered and demoralised. I’m branded as useless and stupid, as well as being an unwanted commodity. Difficult to,see light at the end of any tunnel.

    Regards: Paul

  9. Hey Paul, First, know that you are not alone. Second, your perspective is unique and valuable. Third, the world needs people like us. Fourth, a slow learner is still a learner. Some people (especially those who think they already know it all) never learn. Fifth, real learning takes a long, long time, no matter who you are or how fast other people think you are. Sixth, why be a commodity? You’re a human being, not something to be bought and sold. Seventh, f*#k brands. Eighth, same goes for what other people think. Ninth, better than seeing a light at the end of the tunnel is to turn around and GET OUT OF THE TUNNEL. Tenth, your feelings matter and I hear you.

  10. It’s a relief to see this perspective that I cherish. The older I’ve become the more insane college has seemed. I got through the first four years with a lot of difficulty because I was disturbed by the whole operation. Learning became this fast pace question and quick answer game and it just kinda sucks that you can’t follow your curiosity there. I wasn’t sure if I was stupid or not and the amount of unrelated information you’re asked to “learn” is absurd. I became isolated as I saw the world as it was and became terrified that my ideas could never crystallize. Now I kinda suffer from this dystopian view of society every day as I try to get along but I can’t seem to find anyone in my life who shares my opinion.

  11. […] Slow learning may not be such an appealing notion as nobody wants to be a slow learner: I’m not stupid! I am a professor! I do not know about any academic basis for slow learning, but  its association with slow food and slow fashion is appealing to sustainable me. Slow learning is said to be inspired by a movement of ‘edupunks and other DIY educators’. I am more interested in post education learning, certainly when it comes to learning during a sabbatical. What I learned from the internet seems to match my experiences: Slow learning is thought to promote deep learning. It crosses genres and disciplines. It is grounded in the interests of the learner and therefore champions the pleasures of learning. It promotes inquiry and dialogue, supports and is supported by learning in community. Slow learning allows for authentic learning and seeks unmediated experiences. Finally, it is thought to last a lifetime.(https://shagdora.wordpress.com/what-is-slow-learning/). […]

  12. I find myself t be a slow learner, its been frustrating and still is now a days (38 years old now).
    I always wanted to learn programming at school and do stuff with it but I never managed to understand it or pick up on it during my school days or University. It was only after University (did Computing and Electronics, got really poor grades as I could never understand maths, still hate maths now) that I actually managed to make sense of how it worked and now I can program in about 5 different languages.
    Even though I can code in this many languages I still struggle to actually remember the code, usually I keep stuff I have already done to check my new code and use it as reference as I forget most of it if I leave it a while. It is like I have to re-learn everything again every time. Although I can read it easily and understand it straight away, which is strange.
    Hating maths and trying to learn machine learning in programming is like extreme, getting there very slowly , and all self taught.
    I also find that I still have problems with communication, especially when around large groups of people talking together as I tend to take longer to process information to reply, so by the time I want to reply, they are already on another subject, its very frustrating. Understanding other accents can be difficult as well, then trying to translate in your head to something that you understand before you can make a reply to it.
    I don’t really know what can be done to help others, especially when you’re at school or university and you get treated just like everyone else and are expected to learn as quickly as others. I don’t think it works, being a slow learner I was good at course work because I had time and could get resources and understand it. But exams was hell as I could never remember anything and all just became jumbled up in my head and during exam I would panic because I could not understand the question, took too long to answer and couldn’t remember anything.

  13. Some positive things I have found about being a slow learner.
    I enjoy programming which takes long to learn and requires lots of patience.
    As a slow learner I was able to use my programming in work which gave me advantages over things such as being able to do tasks faster because I could automate them to make my work faster whilst having to think less.
    At work, I still struggle with meetings, either I will be very bored and struggle to keep attention and I struggle to engage in them as I take too long to come up with answers in my head.
    However I do like doing presentations because I can control the pace and allows me to show my views.
    Maybe knowing this, it may help others finding their ways to deal with slow learning and processing.

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