HARVARD HERO MOMENT #33: Learning in lockdown

Segolene Roche

02 Jun 2020

I have a passion for learning random skills that have very little bearing on my real life. If you’re like me, then the lockdown has been a godsend. And if you’re not, what have you been doing with all this extra time? Let’s start with a little experiment… Put your hand up if you’ve done any of the following since you’ve been stuck at home:
  • Learnt to bake the ultimate banana bread
  • Figured out how to tend to your plants
  • Become fluent in Spanish
  • Cut your hair based on a YouTube or TikTok tutorial
  • Tried a new exercise regimen
  • Taken up painting, drawing or a new musical instrument
  • Attended a LinkedIn learning session
  • Devised new chess strategies
  • Discovered something new when helping your child with their schoolwork
If you’ve answered yes to any of these, congratulations, you have spent your time learning something new! And you’re not the only one: according to The Healthy Work Company, one in four British workers are making time for new hobbies during the lockdown.

But why do we do this?

It could be because we want to get fitter, because it helps cope with anxiety or simply to get away from the news for a bit. But one thing is for sure: learning does help with our well-being, even into old age. Research has proved that learning a new language can postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s by 4.5 years; while exercising releases adrenalin and apparently even rewires our brains. In addition to these huge benefits, learning is also about all the small wins that make the effort worthwhile: remember when you finally mastered that one complex turn of phrase, or when you added that extra weight on the machine on leg day? That’s proof you’re constantly progressing on your way to proficiency.

Brick by brick

In many ways, learning is like LEGO: each new thing you learn is one brick you put on top of each other to create a beautiful structure. Too often, we focus on the top of the structure and the stumbling blocks, and we forget that every little brick is what makes the whole structure stand. Luckily, apps are here to remind us of the amount of work we put into learning these skills: like 30 million other monthly active users, I get a daily passive-aggressive reminder from Duolingo that I need to keep my 70+ days streak going. And it seems that these notifications are working: on average, Duolingo users are spending twice as much time on the app since the lockdown than previously. While I can attest that I play a lot more than before, I’ve still got a long way to go before I can confidently say I speak Mandarin… well, time to get that green owl off my back!