Want to Learn Faster? Subtract the Teacher


I love this girl.

She’s six years old, her name is Dachiya Atkinson, and she can absolutely destroy a dance floor.

What I like even more is the space in which she’s developed her talent — which, as it happens, is the opposite of the way we teach most skills.

Let me explain. When it comes to teaching, our instinct often leads us to add a bunch of stuff. Like coaches. Practice drills. Words of advice. Trophies and ribbons. As parents and teachers, we have an irresistible urge to help, to get involved.

But that’s not how Dachiya built her skills. She did it using three simple elements:

  • 1) Skilled performers to stare at
  • 2) Sense of fun
  • 3) Intense, repeatable competition

We see the same ingredients built into other talent-development spaces, whether it’s kids memorizing the digits of pi or a top soccer team practicing or a Little League team that won a championship while playing without a coach.

They succeed because they are finding a way to avoid the complication and static and to tap into the underrated power of clarity, competition, and ownership. They’re finding a way do the toughest thing: to be simple.

If you want to create a learning space, ask yourself these three questions:

  • What’s the simplest, most fun game that can be played?
  • How can you “fill the windshields” of the kids with top performers so they can learn directly, via mimicry?
  • How can you remove coaches and teachers from the space, and give it completely to the learners?

If you want to share any stories or ideas for achieving this, I’d love to hear them.