The Speed of Thought
Through some chain of events, I find myself enrolled in another online class. Last year in 2011, I signed up for Andrew Ng’s excellent Machine Learning class offered through Stanford University. This fall, I signed up my 10-year old kid in a Coursera class called “Learn to Program: The Fundamentals” and helped another friend in Bulgaria sign up for a class.
It is contagious. You cannot browse the course listings without getting caught up in the education revolution. World-class universities and world-class professors are now offering their lectures, homework, and exams online through Coursera. For free. To paraphrase Salman Khan… “Let’s dwell on that for a moment”. Imagine what happens when you democratize education on a global scale. The economics of education have been disrupted. The process of education has been disrupted.
Back to the story… I chose a class called “Writing in the Sciences”. It reflects my desire to expand my career and creative world. I was always a good writer. After all, I have a degree in Rhetoric from U.C. Berkeley, and I have spent a lifetime continuing to improve my writing skills. And yet, I immediately learned some incredible techniques in the first couple lectures.
As I resumed my online education, I discovered again one of the things I love about it… the ability to play back lectures at higher speeds. In my college training in the field of Rhetoric, we were told that the human ear hears speech at a certain number of words per second. I forget the number that was quoted, but that doesn’t matter exactly. What matters is the reality that some people digest words faster than others.
Through online video lectures on Coursera and elsewhere, I found out that I prefer to hear lectures at 1.25x or 1.5x speed. It feels perfectly natural. In fact, when I watch and listen to the video at 1.0x speed, I find that my mind wanders throughout. Even between words, there is enough time for your mind to think about something else. Now I find that education finally works for me. I understand things because they are being conveyed at the speed my mind wants to hear them. If I miss something, I can always rewind.
This is another area where online education completely blows traditional classroom education out of the water.