My journey from Lock-step Schooling to Own-speed learning

My aunt lived next door when I was growing up.  She taught me to read when I was four.  When I was five, we read The Hobbit together.

When I was six, I went to first grade in a Connecticut public school.  I sat there while the other children learned the alphabet.

By the end of first grade, I knew that something was very wrong.  I couldn't learn as slowly as the teacher talked.  Many of the children couldn't learn as fast.

So I was aggravated.  They were depressed.  I have been thinking about this for over 60 years!

Then I went to St Paul's School in NH.  Now I was the one who was behind. This was one of the country's best high schools, but still felt wrong.  

One day in the SPS library, I saw a book: Summerhill -  The First Children's Democracy.  Reading this book gave me the idea that there were other systems than the lock-step schools that I had been stuck in.

My first own-speed learning experience

Next, I went to Columbia in New York City, majoring in psychology.  The leader in behavioral psychology then was BF Skinner.  He had written a self-pace course.  The text and quizzes and tests were all in one book.

One read a few chapters, took a quiz on them, and checked the answers at the back of the book.  After several chapters, one took a test in the classroom, which was graded by the professor.

Meanwhile, in the classroom, we had plenty of time to clarify what we had read, discuss implications, and so on.  There was a midterm test, a paper to write, and so on.

Well, this was an eye-opener.  I could read at least three or four times faster than people speak. I didn't have to take notes, as I could review everything, in the book.  And what I didn’t understand, I could go back and study without holding up anyone.

Two more own-speed courses

After Columbia, I joined IBM in London as a salesman.  After two very successful years, I decided to study law.  The first year of law school could be done with a correspondence course, from the University of London.  This was another eye-opener.

One bought a course on basic contract law, and just studied that, instead of taking five or more courses at a time.  This speeded up my progress greatly.  Once one had taken a final test, graded by the University, one bought the basic torts course.  I rapidly finished both of these.

But by the time I was half-way through the course on property law, I began to think like a lawyer.  This was not for me, so I rejoined IBM.  

However, there was no question but that own-speed learning was far superior to conventional studies.  One could set one’s own schedule, and learn any time, anywhere one could read.  My notes were all in one place, and consisted mostly of highlighted passages.  

In 1977, I returned to New York, and joined Merrill, Lynch.  My first day, I found a box on my desk.  Inside was a loose-leaf binder, and manila envelopes marked Stocks, Bonds, Commodities, Economics, Accounting, Regulations, Taxes and so on.  This too offered very fast learning.  After four months, I passed the New York Stock Exchange exam with no problem.

So when the iPad came out, the possibility of putting the world's knowledge into own-speed courses just naturally came to mind.  That was the beginning of my decision to move to Silicon Valley in 2014.  I wanted to join the big leaders in educational technology.  Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, Google Education, Singularity University — all were in Mountain View.

I moved to Palo Alto, to be near Stanford, and have been happy in every way.  Since reading is so important to learning, I have teamed up with a brilliant software architect, Dan Esbensen.  He programmed his educator father’s own-speed reading course for use with computers, and more recently oversaw the conversion into the mobile version, for LEARN!

All best wishes, Douglas