Humans are wired to be social. When I was studying Japanese in college, we needed to learn hundreds (perhaps thousands) of vocabulary words, kanji, and grammar rules. I would carry lists and flash cards around with me everywhere I went and cram whenever I could. (No smart phones back then.)
Most of the time I studied by myself but I noticed something astonishing. When I paired with someone and studied, my learning rate and retention would be significantly better than my solo sessions. Part of the reason would be that the person quizzing me would go back to the card that I missed or had trouble after an appropriate amount of time. (The fancy name for this is “spaced repetition.”) But there was something else at play too. When I would have trouble with a question, maybe because I felt slightly embarrassed, the next time I was more likely to get that question right. The material would just seem to stick faster and I would remember it longer. I am sure Akemi Tomoda would tell me that it all has to do with my amygdala working overtime. (Aside: Certainly there must be actual data on this phenomenon. If you know of any please tweet me @rayfix or send an email to rayfix @ gmail com).
Saren, a fellow organizer from the Orange County iOS group is Kickstarting an app called Kanjilicious. It rose out of the need to help his six year old son, Genji, and himself learn the hiragana, katakana, and kanji. If you watch the video you will see he is doing a lot of things right. Given my above observations I think his plan of gamification and adding a social play component is right on the mark. It would be great for him to realize this dream. Please give him your support if you can.
The whole idea of social learning and productivity, whether it be pair programming, attending a meetup or conference has enormous application. I hope to explore this in greater detail in future blog posts. But if I had to some up my thinking in one rule, it would be: If you really want to learn something, find a community.