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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Enjoy Learning

When I was a kid, I learned by imitation; gaining rapport with my teachers was irresistible. When I was a teen, I learned by accident, in spite of myself. I was lucky to have teachers who accepted that I was learning while half asleep. Once I got to college, I began to learn by absorption - so I started to choose my teachers carefully because I realized I had no idea what I was absorbing. After college, I thought knew how to spot a fantastic teacher. I became fascinated with what makes a teacher worth the topic they're teaching.

For this community musical "Carnival" in 1989, I learned how to walk on stilts, how to juggle clubs, how to hang and build sets, install stage lighting and manage drama queens. There I am on the ladder.

Sometimes I would just learn whatever a fantastic teacher had to teach. Fantastic teachers seemed to bring out talents their students never knew they possessed. I had to admit that often what attracted me to being taught was trivial, irrelevant or downright foolish. It was only after my ignorance had subsided that I could say there was "a method to madness" for wanting to learn that particular thing. My tolerance extended for learning about something before making up my mind about its value. While learning, I gained and defined the value and use of what I'd gotten on the fly.

Absorption is still my favorite style of learning, because I realize that many people who attempt to teach come up with an explanation that doesn't really match what they actually do. It's the doing of something that I'm often interested in more than the explanation. People teach how they learned - if they take what they learned further, they often don't have ways to explain what they're really doing, so they use their former teacher's words. A learner sometimes needs to ignore that presentation, and get to the source in a more direct way.

What I mean by "absorption" is to merely open up as wide as possible to the skill that is being demonstrated. With absorbing, time of arrival or sequence does not matter. Pretend as if you can already do the skill, even though you are vastly inexperienced. Imitate everything you perceive - body language, attitude and facial expression. Cast your attention wide to take in as much as possible at once, and see if it's possible to juggle all these unknown factors. "Fake it 'til you make it." Count on "beginner's luck" to fill in the blank spots. You have nothing to lose, because you have nothing invested.

Since college, have always been able to learn from books. Surprisingly to me, this is rare. People seem to get a book to "have" the contents or refer to it, seldom do they get a book to really learn it. I outline a book if I think it's something I want to learn.  Learning using a book by outlining it can be done with a library book; it's cheaper than buying the book - and I have the contents that I want to use or remember after I outlined it.

The learning skill that has been the most useful for me as a learner has been to observe. Observation pays off when choosing a teacher; barefaced self observation allows faster learning. Each discipline, skill, world of knowledge or study has it's own sense, body language and lexicon, which  it pays off to learn - but not at first. I find that I want to directly experience a subject first, before I'm trained into looking at it from the traditional point of view of how most people learn it. After that direct experience as a complete beginner, I'll understand what the classic solutions have answered. Sometimes confronting a subject directly will allow me to innovate beyond the classic learning procedures. Sometimes the way I give back to teachers is by asking them original questions that they haven't yet thought of asking themselves. The way to come up with these original questions is to note what puzzles you or fascinates as you first encounter the skill or subject, before you know what others think is "important" about it.

How do you learn best? What do you enjoy about learning?

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