Monday, 2 February 2009
Incubation, learning with Abba and chunking.
Not only did I sit through Mamma Mia (the Abba film/musical) last night I also endured the documentary about the making of. I consider this paternal duty.
During the choreography documentary the associate choreographer, Nichola Treherne, kindly announced to the dancers not to worry if they hadn't fully remembered the entire dance sequence as it would be better the next day, "Somehow," she said, "the body learns it overnight!"
I thought this was a great insight and made me think of the 'incubation' period we usually go through when learning new systems or structures or even when we're weighing up a big decision in our mind. this takes me back to my thesis on design development and the creative process. Incubation is often referred to as the period between setting the objectives and actually getting down to doing the concept generation. Incubation might then be considered, as Debussy defined for music, "the silence between the notes" : That time during periods of creation or learning when we've committed the problem to our mind. It then goes and works on it in the background while we get on and do other things so that when we apply ourselves again to the problem (be it creation or learning) we've already got a bit of a head start (pun intended).
So learning as a process might have useful 'spaces' between practice too: just like those Mamma Mia dancers whose bodies magically remember moves overnight, then we can be encouraged by the fact that complex new forms or sequences might be helped by periods of incubation.
As incubation is helpful to learning new sequences, so too can chunking. (This idea first came to my attention from reading a blog but I can't find the reference for it! If you've seen it let me know and I'll gladly acknowledge.)
Sadly chunking is not a new form of Cadbury's chocolate. Happily it is helpful in our training and maybe even when teaching techniques to others. Chunking consists of breaking down new experiences to be learned into chunks of seven (plus or minus two). It is said that our short term memory has this capacity (7+/-2) and that learning within these confines is beneficial to increasing the power of our learning capacity. For example I would find it quite hard to memorise a number such as 3871095847, but if I break it down into 'chunks' then it suddenly becomes much more 'appealing' to my cranky old brain: 38, 710, 958, 47. The first string is 10 digits so more than our 7+/-2 but the second sequence of four chunks falls within this easy-to-remember range.
The similarity to learning new sequences or forms in the martial arts can easily be seen. Chunking might be a good teaching aid for seemingly bafflingly long hyungs. Often we break down these long forms into shorter chunks for the learner to easily digest. Hopefully not ALL in one go as I think quality is sometimes lost but at least this rule of thumb helps in knowing how much information to give to newbies.
So don't forget: having trouble learning that new form? Don't worry: chunk it up and sleep on it!