The Magic of Specialization?

I’m a multi-tasker. I won’t deny it, I think most of us do it and it’s something I need to work on. But just how effective is it? Turns out, our brain is kind of like a processor that switches back and forth very quickly between tasks. The switching process takes your brain time to remember where one task left off while abandoning the other. There is a cost to this: time, accuracy, and efficiency.

man-1633667_1920.jpgI kind of doubted this, until I think about this example: When I’m lost in my car (which is often), and I need to carefully watch for signs – I immediately turn down the radio. This is an instinctive reaction for me to lessen other stimuli. Humans just aren’t as good at multitasking as we think we are.

I’m taking this example to my theory on the college experience. Why is our education system built on multi-tasking? Think about it. College classes really do drag out the timeline to award a degree. If your history class is on Wednesdays at 1:00 every week. Between that time, you’re cramming your brain with English 101, Statistics and Psychology 101. Why not focus on a single subject before moving on to the next? It takes about 50% of the time to re-learn information. If you pour yourself into a single subject for small sprints of time you can accomplish goals more quickly.

I analyzed a couple of scenarios as I help Miss Moe navigate what will be best for her on this next phase of life. High school will go faster than she realizes, and she’ll be able to earn quite a few credits before she steps foot on a college campus (more on that later). A little bit she’s a case study of sorts for me, but I keep out of Tiger Mom territory – ultimately the decision is hers. Below are a couple of examples (any hybrid of these options can give a multitude of results and time frames). I’m going to use this as my baseline as I continue to figure out this college route for the most time efficient and economical option I can sell to little Miss Moe.

The Traditional College Method: 

  • Each semester you take 12 credits (this is universally the least amount of credits you can take and be considered a full time student)
  • The average length of a college semester is 15 weeks
  • Let’s also assume you take summers off
  • With two semesters you earn 24 credits per year
  • 120 credits (in the right areas) = four year degree

Some very simple math with 24 credits per year divided by the 120 credits required = 5 years for a traditional college 4-year degree. Of course this could be shortened by taking more credits than the minimum or adding summers to your schedule.

The Alternative College Method: 

Now, let’s look at an alternative way to sharply focus on one subject and put about the same amount of time and effort as the traditional college counterpart.

  • Spend two weeks per subject diving into the content
  • The average semester length is 15 weeks (so you take a week off, or allow yourself three weeks for a difficult subject) resulting in 7 college tests (21 credits)
  • Let’s also assume you take summers off
  • Each college level test is worth at least three credits (sometimes 6 or more, but let’s assume those will take you proportionately longer to study for)
  • With two semesters you earn 42 credits per year
  • 120 credits (in the right areas) = four year degree

Some very simple math with 42 credits per year divided by the 120 credits required = 2.85 years for a traditional college 4-year degree. Of course this could be shortened by not taking summers off.

Die Hard Method:

If we really want to explore how quickly you could do this, you can get it done in no time. But, you’ll have no time for your real life.

  • 52 weeks in a year
  • 2 week testing cycle
  • 26 tests in a year
  • 78 credits per year
  • 1.5 years for a four year degree

hurry-2119711_1920.jpgIs the Die Hard method the recommended way to go about this? Probably not – that accounts for no breaks, and would pretty much be your life for 1.5 years. However, there is a vast difference between 1.5 years and the traditional half decade route. Couldn’t you find a happy compromise by pacing yourself, or even making your own hybrid of these options? I hope to convey to Miss Moe she controls her education, but she can do it smartly and efficiently. Specialization increases efficiency and learning speed. What this doesn’t take into account is which kind of college Miss Moe would like to attend and transfer credit policies (it’s a bit early for final selections). This is just the beginning of my research on this ever-looming subject of higher education in the USA. American Philosopher Deepak Chopra said:

Your conscious brain cannot multitask. If I’m speaking to you and checking my iPhone at the same time, I’m doing neither. This is why our society is frazzled; this misconception that we can consciously do more than one thing at a time effectively.

~Mrs. Moe


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