31 And Learning


After the first couple of tiring months, babies usually adjust to a routine: they feed less frequently and they sleep through the night (more or less). For me, this meant sleeping six hours straight or more, which led to not needing afternoon naps, which gave me a couple of free hours every afternoon. With a baby sleeping next room, this precious time can’t however be used as you might like: you can’t leave the house, no saxophone practice, no crazy cleaning.

At first I attempted reading books and catching up with my favorite tv shows (the girly ones my husband won’t watch with me), but I quickly grew bored. Then, I discovered Duolingo and my afternoons changed. I finally had a purpose: learn German.

Like I guess many other mums who decide to pause their career to care for their children, I feel scared for what will come next. I enjoy very much caring for my son, and even if now he’s only seven months old and needs me very much, in a blink of an eye he’ll become a big boy and I will need to start focusing again on my goals.

So what’s better than devoting your spare time to learning while you are at home not working? I mean, not only learning job related stuff, but learning just for the pleasure. What a great chance is that? I doubt I will ever work in Germany (who knows, anyway?) but it gave me such pleasure to understand and speak a few basic German sentences while in Frankfurt airport (“Sie ist ein Mädchen?” “Nein, Jungen!”). Plus, Duolingo is fun and quite addictive. You can also challenge your friends and keep track of their improvements (my mum is the champion, even though I managed to beat her for few weeks).

Learning is fun. Learning is addictive.

After Duolingo came Cousera, whose slogan is Learning without Limits. Coursera offer thousands of free MOOCs (massive open online courses) of higher or university level, and partners with Stanford, Princeton, Yale just to name a few. You can learn at your own pace, discuss with other students all around the world, take tests and even earn a certificate.

I started with Calculus I, which is a self paced course, meaning you can start whenever you want to. I did some calculus in high school but I was really bad in maths back then so, after watching two modules I realized that even if I understood the theory, I had great difficulties doing the test exercises. This was because I had (have) serious knowledge gaps in maths. What to do?

I paused my calculus course and signed up for Khan Academy.

Khan Academy changed my life. Seriously.

For some sort of gender discrimination, as a kid I was told that I wasn’t going to be as good as my brother in maths or in other science related fields, even though up to junior high I had the best grades in all subjects. Then in high school I encountered the first difficulties and I kind of gave up, having internalized that I was just not good at maths. Now that I am learning again that same stuff I feel a new person: learning boosts self-esteem.

I realized that there are no bad pupils: there are just bad teaching methods. Suppose you get a B on a test. You passed the test but you clearly have some knowledge gaps on the subject, like a slice of swiss cheese. Nonetheless the class moves on and what was a B most certainly will become a C on the next test, thanks to those swiss cheese holes we talked about earlier. When you don’t move at the same pace, you are simply left behind.

With Khan Academy you stay (or you return) on a given subject until you have mastered it and, best of all, learning at your pace means that you can watch a tutorial video as many times you want, pause it and get hints to solve a problem if you feel stuck. No one is there to judge you and frown when you fail and if you need to review a concept twice or more you won’t feel ashamed to ask as you might be if someone was actually there to teach you. It feels empowering to know that, even if you might fail at the beginning, eventually you’ll master that subject. And that applies to everything.

You can learn anything.