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  • Writer's pictureChris Gibbs

The two 'R's when learning

After spending a day facilitating a learning process for my client’s team and helping them enhance their knowledge on a software solution, it was my turn to learn.

After opening a lovely bottle of red wine, I left it to breath while I went to my piano. I pulled out my new ‘Grade 3’ book with nervous anticipation and opened it to the first page. Time to learn the next set of scales and technical work! Not the most exciting or engaging part of the grade, but vital to ensure a solid grounding, as I work towards my long-term goal of becoming a pianist.

I proceeded to let my fingers stumble over the keys as I tried to get to grips with B Flat Major. Half an hour or more must have passed while I was playing repetitive scales and making mistakes, before my fingers finally glided up and down the scale without error! I punched the air with my fist and reached for my glass of wine as a reward.

The following morning I was trying to teach our dog Alfie to ‘stay’, we were in a field and I tried to leave him and walk away before calling him to me, but it was on about the 30th attempt that he finally got the hang of it, he looked so pleased with himself when he was rewarded with a fuss and his favorite treats! It was at this moment that I made the connection between my own learning and Alfie’s.

It became clear that we both needed that condensed time of practical repetition and trying to get something new ‘right’ and I’m sure that knowing there was a reward at the end kept both of us trying until we ‘got it’.

It goes without saying that Alfie and I both needed to keep going over our new skills to ensure we retained what we had learned, but the basic learning process for both of us was the same. It also made me realise that learning by ‘theory’ or being told something verbally, reading it in a book or watching an online video would not have helped either of us.

If someone had told me that B flat major had two flats and started with ‘finger two’ on the right hand and ‘finger three’ on the left hand and then shown me a few times how to play it, I would not have been as successful at learning as I was by playing it myself over and over again. Likewise, I know Alfie would have dozed off had I sat and verbally explained the theory of ‘stay’ to him and he never would have been able to learn.

I wondered if it was just Alfie and myself who learned from practical repetition and rewards, so I started asking around. I was comforted to learn that 100% of the friends I spoke to told me that they learned best with practical experience. The skills varied from people who were learning how to play musical instruments, studying for an arts degree, learning how to do magic tricks to learning languages and computer skills. Rolling their sleeves up (metaphorically in some cases!) and getting stuck in with repetitive learning really is the best way forward.

It then made me smile to learn that 90% of my friends confessed to rewarding themselves, which gave them an incentive to learn. The magician with the lure of buying yet another new trick to add to their repertoire once the current one was profited, the mature drama student (and busy mum of two!) with the glass of wine waiting for the study to be completed when the children are in bed and the language student, with the promise of a trip once they had mastered the basics!

The 10% exception who told me they didn’t reward themselves? They were actually musicians who found their rewards in the art and challenge of playing the instrument and seeing their own progressions - reward in itself wouldn’t you say?

So next time you are faced with learning something new, either in the home or the work place - just remember the two ‘R’s’ - Repetition & Reward…. make sure you get enough practical repetition for the new skill to be learned and plan your reward!


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