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The fast and slow of learning

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

It's easy to think if you're a slow learner that learning's not for you. But, don't be fooled.

Have you heard about the two types of learner brains? -The race car and hiker?

In the Learning How to Learn course on Coursera, which is now the most viewed online course of all time, Professor Barbara Oakley explores the hiker brain and race car brain.

The race car brain is that student who shoots her hand up in class almost immediately the teacher asks a question. It's like she's on a set, smooth roadway and she's got to the finish line really fast.

Other hiker brain students, like me, haven't even had time to gather our thoughts. We get to the finish line much more slowly because we're walking.

But because we're going more slowly than the race car, we get to smell the flowers, touch the leaves and we can easily veer off the expected path into places people don't normally go.

It means, in some ways, the hiker brain can learn more deeply than the race car brain.

The thing to remember is that perseverance for the hiker brain is critical, and that just because it takes us longer to learn, it doesn't mean that we are any less capable than our race-car-brain friends.

For you the parent, the key is to understand that your hiker brain student will get to the finish line. They just need to be given enough time and support.

Also, that while finishing fast has it's advantages, the race car learner needs to be aware that if she steers off track, it can be hard for her to get back on.

Recognising the advantages and disadvantages, says Dr Oakley, is the first step in learning how to approach unfamiliar material.

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