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What difference could one hour of learning make?

January 23, 2012

Another great article in this weekend’s Education Life issue is this modern story of a Renissance Man.

It’s the story of Jeremy Gleick, a sophomore at UCLA who spends one hour every day learning something new, and he just completed his 1000th hour—this is beyond his coursework fro classes. So far, he’s studied everything from Gamma Ray Bursts to juggling.

Here’s a great quote from Jeremy describing the value he finds in this:

This is learning for learning’s sake, but the dabbling adds up. “Maybe you don’t become an expert,” Mr. Gleick says, “but you can get really good at something.” The practical use comes later. A detail about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot worked its way into a fictional story he wrote; sign language might be useful once he completes his emergency medical technician certification.

Here’s the other thing I find interesting. Much of the material from iTunes U. iTunes U is a pretty great resource (I’ve loved listening to both Physics for Future Presidents and Berkeley’s History 7B), and it’s now been around for six or more years since this resource debuted, but I bet I could count on my hands the number of students who have heard of it. Even with the big announcement Apple made about iTunes U and iBooks last week, I still bet may students or faculty at most schools have had the time to explore these resources.

And as much as we praise the “digital natives” I find that more often than not, they live in the internet shallows. They read ESPN, but not Grantland, they watch YouTube with the best of them, but few engage and ponder TED talks, and they rarely dig beyond the first or second link on Google. Why is this? First, I don’t think we teach the skills of how to be a lifelong learner at all-how do you find a good book to read, a useful tutorial on fly fishing or an excellent explanation of the second law of thermodynamics? So much of school consists of a teacher delivering pre-digested morsels of knowledge to students that students often flounder when seeking out learning on their own. Often, the very structure of school makes learning painful enough that few students want to pursue it on their own. Finally, we overschedule students’ lives so much that even if they did want to find time for an “hour of learning”, they couldn’t find the time.

But what if we changed this? What if there were an “Introduction to Life Long Learning Now” (ILLLN, for short) course that every 9th grade student takes, where students get together to share the things they’re learning, the cool sources they find, and their only homework is to spend an hour each night learning something that appeals to them? This is a course I’d love to teach—imagine all the things my students could teach me.

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