Being the go-getter that I am, I have been taking an online course through a fantastic online learning website by the name of Coursera. I hope one day to be involved in medical education and so I started with a course called Learning How to Learn. (Note: this is not a plug for the website – I just enjoy providing links to the things I discuss in my articles – Aside: I wish I was supported by ads, perhaps one day!!)
So, here I am, making my way through the course and learning both some valuable study techniques as well as the neuroscience behind how we learn. One of the learning techniques described is what is known as a pomodoro. In short, it is a way to break one’s learning into small, manageable chunks and then provide a small reward after each pomodoro. (I do enjoy this technique, it puts a damper on my tendency to reach for my cell phone or check that latest facebook post). Tonight, I happened to be pomodoro’ing my way through (I just made up a word there) the course whilst watching a Netflix documentary by the name of Take Your Pills.
After each pomodoro, I allowed myself to watch a bit of the documentary as my reward. Well, how serendipitous indeed! Turns out my mind found a link between what I am learning on Coursera and what I am watching on television. (I love how the brain works so naturally when it comes to getting the creative juices flowing!)
Now, I am not here to write a review for either the course I am taking or the documentary I watched. Suffice it to say that they are things that I am both enjoying (I haven’t finished the course yet) and that I enjoyed (I did finish watching the documentary).
Humans have an innate ability to remember the details of say, a room we walk into, even days or weeks later. We built these natural spatial and visual memory abilities over eons of evolution. Quite rightly so, given that our day to day survival depended on remembering how to get back from a hunt, or where the best place to pick for berries was located.
The documentary Take Your Pills discusses pharmaceutical amphetamines (Adderall, Ritalin, dexedrine, Concerta and Vyvanse, to name most) and the increasing licit (and illicit) use by children and adults in Western society.
It gives an overview of the history of pharmaceutical amphetamines and states that the first article describing the abuse of benzadrine (a prescription drug otherwise known as amphetamine) amongst college students was in Time magazine in the 1930s.
It appears our society has had difficulty focusing on learning school subjects for a long time. Why might that be?
It’s simple. Our brains have been conditioned to learn spatially and visually through movement over hundreds of thousands of years – to survive for the short term, not the long term.
Now stop and think about our children’s learning environments and subject matter. Math, science, english, social studies and more. And how are our children taught these subjects? By sitting in one desk, often in one classroom. Do these two environments and modes of learning jive? I think not.
And where is the short-term benefit? Do years of school provide any short-term benefit or reward? Well, yes, but only if you do well in school. What of the children who do not? Methinks some may end up requiring ADHD medications.
Now, I don’t want to vilify the use of these drugs in today’s world. I do believe they have a place, with judicious use.
We can draw the same analogies with the adult world and our working environments.
The question then becomes, is it us that suffers from a problem, or is it how our society is designed that causes our suffering? I’m betting on the 2nd option.
This is, no doubt, not a novel idea. But, it was a nice A-ha moment for me that I will take to the clinic, and perhaps beyond to the classroom. Our teaching and working conditions need to take advantage of that innate ability to function and learn based on our natural visual and spatial learning abilities. There are even parts of the brain dedicated to learning naturally and easily in this manner! How cool is that!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a thing or two about learning and working in today’s world!