I’m heading out to my ceramics class for the second time. Because I have a fairly precise idea of my route and how long it took the last time, I leave the house allowing enough time, taking previous traffic patterns into account. When I arrive, I know the best and safest place to park (having been advised at the first class). I make my way into the building, up the stairs, a quick visit to the bathroom, and right to the studio.
I recognize my fellow students, nod hello, store my bag on one of the hooks, and don an apron from the supply nearby. I know where the clay is kept and which board to use for wedging. I pick out an open table area and start to work, applying the procedures demonstrated to us in the first class.
I pause for a moment and realize how much more fun and interesting – less stressful – learning feels tonight.
When learning something new, the second time through gives us such a measurably different experience. You have a context, you see the whole, you can better estimate the time it will take, you feel less lost, you feel less anxious.
This post from Annie Murphy Hall talks about the added expertise an older adult brings to a learning situation. Apparently researchers report that older people (as in over 65 years of age) show less variability in their cognitive performance over 100 days of testing than younger people. The researchers cite “learned strategies” – their problem solving ability, along with a balanced daily routine and stable mood. I would add that, due to their years of experience, they are more likely to have faced a similar problem and can retrieve a solution (or a partial one) that makes for approaching this new cognitive task as if it were the second time. Easier.