Slow Learning

The term ‘slow learner’ is often seen as being something negative, certainly compared to efficient achievement. Our schools and colleges frame ‘education’ in terms of the time spent on gaining certain qualifications, which no doubt helps cultivate this idea still further. But I’d like to take a different view.

One thing I’ve learned through a lifetime of chess is that efficiency in education doesn’t necessarily produce expertise. Given the choice between a newly qualified mechanic and someone who just played around with engines for the last 30 years, who would be better at fixing a car? It’s not necessarily going to be the guy with the certificate, in fact he might be clueless when it comes to anything but the most standard problems.

Let’s think about the same sort of question with chess being the subject matter. If someone watches a DVD on a particular chess opening, reads a book or two about it and downloads the latest games are they going to be able to play it well? I would argue that they’re never going to master it without playing around with the positions and using it in their games for a few years. It’s only after the tinkering and experimentation process that they’ll start to figure out what’s happening at a level that can be used in a combat situation.

What’s going on here is that it takes time for new information to be properly embedded in the mind, it just doesn’t happen overnight. So once we have ‘learned’ something it needs to be repeated, perhaps from slightly different angles, until it becomes ‘natural’. Any questions we have about a position have to be thoroughly explored until doubt gradually dissipates.

Another factor is that when the basics aren’t learned very thoroughly any subsequent concepts are built on feet of clay, so it’s not surprising when the entire edifice starts to wobble and even collapse. Richard James has written at length about such problems at junior level, I’ve seen similar effects amongst adults. Once again the issue is that the learning process has been rushed, the hoped for ‘fast progress’ becoming nothing but half baked waffle which has no improvement value whatsoever. I’d even say it can have a destructive effect as a person with such ‘knowledge’ will first have to admit that they’ve been on the wrong path. And this isn’t easy for any of us.

One expression that I came across recently is ‘the speed of shifting sand dunes’, and it’s this sort of image that we should be thinking about when trying to develop ourselves within an art form such as chess. And here’s a Youtube clip to foster the right frame of mind:


Author: NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Nigel has written a number of chess books that are available at Amazon: