Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

10 February 2009


Clark @ 3:06 PM

We recently finished watching a video series called Kamichu (we like anime).  It’s a remarkably cute series about a middle school girl who finds out she’s a god (apparently the Shinto belief system). There are some subtle digs at cultural artifacts like politicians, sweet explorations of the difficulties of romance, and funny running gags.  I recommend it, but the thoughts it prompted are what I’m talking about here.

One of the interesting things about the show is it’s speed.  Each episode unfolds at it’s own leisurely pace, with soft musical backgrounds, and no laugh tracks.  Our (only recently) Disney-watching kids, now experienced with laugh tracks and frantic pacing, were enchanted.  It made me think about taking time to develop an atmosphere, the time taken to really develop a mood.  Good movies do that, though less and less.

I’d recently been reflecting on pacing in music as well, regarding Pink Floyd. They similarly take the time to build the tension to make their musical flourishes.  As did the landmark Who’s Next Album.  (Ok, so my musical tastes indicate my age.  Still, the pacing matters.)

Serendipitously, I also just read an intriguing post about the history of addiction.  It starts off talking about how we used to listen to music, hearing our favorite pieces only infrequently, and likely badly.  Similarly, getting together for conversations and fun was time-consuming.  The post then goes on to cover the rise, and fall, of opiates (legal for many years), and finally suggests that technology is our new addiction, and that we still haven’t figured out what’s now appropriate with technology or not.  It’s long, but very interesting.

I’ve gone off before about slow learning, and I think this is another facet.   Not only are we’re rushing too much in our performance, our development processes, and the amount of time we devote to learning, we’re not properly setting the stage.  I’ve been quick myself, but some of the best speakers seem to take their time getting to the point.  I think there’s a lot to process here, and perhaps a lot to learn.  We’ve less patience, and I think that it’s affecting our confidence to take time to do things properly.  If we don’t, we risk it not working. If we do take our time, we run the risk of costing a bit more money.

In business, increasingly, I think we need to slow down and think a little, and the end result will end up being at least as fast, but also better quality.  I think that’s the wise decision, what do you think?


  1. If you’re fans of anime, then you probably already know about Miyazaki, but just in case: we’ve loved introducing my niece and nephew to Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and a couple of others, for many of the same reasons – he takes the time to pace a story out.

    Comment by Rob Moser — 10 February 2009 @ 6:12 PM

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  3. I think part of it is pacing, but part of it is the context of an event. I’ve been thinking about what events are in time shifted culture. Part of you experience of music, for example, comes from a time when music was not simply used like air conditioning.

    Is it bad to use music in that way? To not make it an event? I don’t think so. Listening to music while driving or doing chores reduces the tedium of life, results in wonderful discoveries, etc. But to each thing it’s context, right? Seventies album rock existed at a time when the context was the album — that was the event, the unit of experience. The 60s psych-pop hits I’ve recently come to appreciate come from a place where the unit of experience was a radio playlist.

    Similarly I think what you’re noticing with Kamichu, at least partially, is the unit of experience is the series, which is somewhat unique in current children’s entertainment.

    I don’t know that we have really lost this, the long form — I think in the case of adult entertainment the pacing of TV series is more long-form than ever — Dexter is an example of a show which has an elegance to the glacial pace of it’s larger story arc. But what both Dexter and Kamichu have in common is an understanding that a) you will see every episode b) in order — an assumption Dexter (and Lost, for all it’s faults) feels free to make in a world of DVRs and instant net replays. And an assumption many musical artists don’t feel free to make in the world of the 99 cent download.

    In any case, I think your point about pacing is interesting — certainly the rebirth of the modern television series shows there is a large market for longer form experiences — things with an arc that pulls you in from week to week and doesn’t let you go.

    ANyway, I’ve rambled enough I suppose…

    Comment by Mike Caulfield — 10 February 2009 @ 9:41 PM

  4. You article left in me a longing for the past which I do not think is a good thing. Our president uses a blackberry and paced his message at the frantic pace you seem to regret that we have taken. The world has changed, everywhere but in school.

    Comment by Norman Constantine — 11 February 2009 @ 3:36 AM

  5. Rob, I almost mentioned Miyazake in the post, then cut it for brevity. Big fans (we own Totoro, and we don’t buy too many DVDs).

    Mike, interesting thoughts, and agree it does have to do with context and expectations. But perhaps we could play with those more than we do? Revisiting, e.g. spaced practice, leads to better retention, after all. “Welcome to this week’s episode of Cost Accounting; last week Dexter had just discovered that the old accounting methods were costing the company thousands of unnecessary dollars.” (NB: I know bugger-all about accounting)

    Norman, I’m not looking to go back (rip my laptop out of my cold dead hands), but I think we could be more reflective, and have a healthier mix than “rush rush rush”. A longer discussion.

    Comment by Clark — 11 February 2009 @ 8:45 AM

  6. “Go Slow to go fast”…or something to that effect

    Comment by Tom Gram — 11 February 2009 @ 10:39 AM

  7. I don’t think it is as much the pace of learning as much as fitting learning into someone else’s pace. My son asked why standardized tests are timed. We equate in our society fast with smart. As a result, the best answer is the first answer. As a result, our educational system is narrowed down to fast, simple answers.

    But life is more complex. The show your are speaking of seems to show the complexity of relations and life, with no simple answer and the need for a deeper understanding. My daughter and son do not do as well on standardized tests because they “overthink” the questions and answers.

    BTW, the middle schooler who finds out she is a god…isn’t that true of most middle schoolers?

    Comment by Virginia Yonkers — 12 February 2009 @ 10:11 AM

  8. Tom, yes, very much so. Virginia, LOL! Middle schoolers do seem to think they’re god, at least. Maybe not so much in Japan? I like what you say. I was talking about taking time to build up to a point more, but we do too much value speed. As I have said, there’s no situation so difficult that there’s not a compelling answer that’s elegant, simple, and wrong. Of course, I also say that there’s no situation so bad that a bad pun can’t make it worse….

    Comment by Clark — 12 February 2009 @ 1:04 PM

  9. Clark, I agree that pacing and context are vital parts of an effective learning experience. Too much training is delivered in one concentrated hit (whether it be a 1 hour e-learning module or a 3 day residential course) largely ignoring our inbuilt tendency to forget more than we remember. We need spacing for our cognitive processes to operate optimally and therefore build the confidence and competence required to transfer new knowledge and skills into action and performance.

    I have also commented on my blog (and published in the Learning Technologies magazine) on how we should be less focused on “rapid development” and instead look at accelerating the overall learning “intervention” so that we are supporting the right learning, reaching the right learners at the right time, so that they can genuinely improve their performance. That leads to real change and real returns on the investment made, even if that investment may appear initially larger. A hard pill for most people to swallow in these times, perhaps.

    Would value your comments on my article found here.

    Comment by Lars Hyland — 20 February 2009 @ 2:26 AM

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