Slowing down the pace: the advantages of “slow” learning

Student Life

Slowing down the pace: the advantages of “slow” learning

10 May, 2021

Students often feel “overwhelmed” by the amount of material to study: at that point, being quick in reading and memorizing everything is perceived as a priority. On the other hand, those who need more time to elaborate concepts might feel inadequate and unable to respect the fast times of today’s speed-up society.

The International Slowness Day celebrated in May, is an occasion to reflect on the role that slowness can play for our students, in their study activities and in the optimal organization of their days to achieve their goals.

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Slowness is part of us

First of all, we know that slowness is “physiological”, a characteristic that is part of us as human beings. In fact, it seems that our brain is equipped with two systems, one fast and instinctive, and one slow, more controlled and supportive of logical reasoning [1].

It seems that the combination of the functioning of these two systems, with a rapidity in reactions (e.g. focusing attention on a stimulus) alternating with a slowness in some cognitive processes (e.g. in-depth cognitive processing of the stimulus), is adaptive for our species, and for this reason it is well rooted in our brain functioning.

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Been slow in a speed-up society

Despite this, when we think about the organization of our lives, being slow is perceived as a problem, an obstacle to achieving our goals and success.

If we consider studying, students often come to a moment when they feel “overwhelmed” by the amount of material to study, and at that point being quick in reading and memoziring everything is perceived as a priority.

In fact, there are many empirical data that tell us how slowness is an element that favors learning, and therefore it can not only not be a problem, but rather it becomes a desirable trait of the student.

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Advantages of being slow

Slowness lies in taking time, hours, days or, in some cases, weeks. Everyone's concentration times are variable, but we know that we can maintain optimal concentration levels for about 25 minutes, before it gradually begins to decrease, if you don’t take small breaks.

The tendency to procrastinate and then do full-immersions of many hours of study close to the exam, for most people is not a good strategy.

Diluting short study sessions over the days, right from the start of the lessons, seems to be more functional. This also allows picking up the material to be studied several times (e.g. in class, a few days after class, and in the review sessions before the exam), and therefore have more opportunities to elaborate and understand particularly difficult or unclear passages.

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Having time also allows trying more, for example in solving problems and exercises, and these attempts can also lead to errors. We know that the work of identifying and correcting errors favors the understanding and learning of complex procedures, and therefore can be an aid to study.

The craving associated with wanting to do everything quickly also leads to strong drops in energy and feelings of anxiety which then affect the quality of learning, as well as the well-being of the individual.

It has been shown that slowing down the pace, even for a few minutes a day, and giving yourself time, decreases the emotional tension and, consequently, improves the “performance”, whether for study or work. Slowness should therefore not be seen as a problem, but rahter valued and integrated into each student’s curriculum.

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[1] Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

[2] Apple, D. K., & Ellis, W. (2015). Learning how to learn: Improving the performance of learning. International Journal of Process Education, 7(1), 21-28.

[3] Kringelbach, M. L., McIntosh, A. R., Ritter, P., Jirsa, V. K., & Deco, G. (2015). The rediscovery of slowness: exploring the timing of cognition. Trends in cognitive sciences, 19(10), 616-628.

Written by

Valentina Tobia
Valentina Tobia

Valentina is a psychologist, with a PhD in Experimental Psychology, Linguistics and Cognitive Neuroscience; since 2019 she has been a researcher at the UniSR Faculty of Psychology. She deals with learning processes in preschool and school age, both considering the typical development and in relation to specific learning difficulties and disorders. She also does research in the field of school well-being and the effects of stressors in the school context. She carries out clinical activities at the Development Psychopathology service of the San Raffaele Turro Hospital and collaborates with various schools as a school psychologist and trainer.

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