Learning repetition leads to mastery

In an era where we want everything on demand and most things can be delivered that way, repetition is often considered as a boring unnecessary thing to do. However in the field of learning, repetition is what creates mastery of any skill. Think of it this way, the first time you got on a bike, cycling was a skill you had to learn. When you succeeded at cycling a few meters first time, you didn’t stop. In fact for most of us the freedom and excitement of being able to go further faster to go play with friends kept us cycling for more than one instance.

In talking to trainers and teachers, I often hear the complaint that children and young adults don’t see the value in repeating something more than once. The reality is those same children and young adults will persist at playing games which often require them to repeat the same motion or game mechanics over and over again in order to level up. They have a purpose, a reason for continuing. In school we are often told you need mathematics, language, sciences etc and it is force-fed into the curriculum. Granted as a child you don’t always know what you don’t know and what would be useful, hence the existence of a curriculum. Since technology and time has evolved significantly I do worry about the curriculum no longer being fit for purpose, but that is a totally different conversation. If mathematics was thought with a link to the young persons reality, for example by learning trigonometry about sine, cosine and tangents can help you in game design to establish angles or in architecture to design bridges for example. Then I would argue that all of a sudden my interest in wanting to understand this material would be a lot higher than the concepts presented on their own, which is how I was taught.

So the purpose of knowledge or learning I think should always be an essential part of good learning design. Answer the question ‘why’ very early on, so it gives the context adults need to make sense of new information and children need to become curious or interested in.

When the purpose truly has me captured, then repetition will be less tedious and maybe even more rewarding. Just like with our earlier cycling example, those first few meters were hard work, but then the more you practised the easier it became. As a learner, I always needed my time to absorb materials and I liked to practise when I was good at something, not so much when I really struggled with the basics. Mathematics was a subject I didn’t particularly shine in, but I made a lot of effort into mastering it and succeeded to a reasonable level. Two weekends ago I had the major insight of why trigonometry played a role by attending a game developer session at one of the biggest casual games studios, King.

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