Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Learning Advice from a Learning Life

Learning is something very personal and very individual, so having found myself being asked for generalized learning advice, I find myself both eager to share but hesitant about what to share!

So I'll simply do what I always strive to do: write from personal experiences. Share what I've found to be important in my own learning and in my own life, and hope that others can find it relatable or otherwise helpful. Much of this seems really obvious, yet at the same time I've never actually sat down and attempted to list all the things I find most important in my own learning, and seeing it all laid out like this is proving really interesting and revealing to me...

Be comfortable learning just enough and nothing more

Read the Wikipedia article, and if you're satisfied with that, stop. Go by your interest level, and don't feel an obligation to learn a lot about a subject if you're not interested in doing so.

Be comfortable focusing on one subject to the exclusion of (almost) all else

Sometimes digging deep and truly immersing yourself in something can be a wonderfully rewarding experience, and leaves you with a very deep knowledge of something or a high level of skill. If something seems wonderful enough to you to do that, go for it.

Learn alone

Books are great. So is the internet. So are solitary walks in the woods.

Self-taught ukulele player

Seek out groups, teachers, or mentors to learn

Sometimes learning with other people really feels best (for some people often, others, rarely). Whether it's in a group where big interesting discussions can happen, or finding a teacher who can help you gain the level of skill you want to have, learning with other people can be wonderful. There's nothing that says just because you're a self-directed learner you can't direct yourself towards lots of other people!

Don't force it

If you find yourself reading the same paragraph half a dozen times because you're just not taking it in, stop. Put the book down. Maybe permanently, maybe just until the next day if it seems interesting again then. But I do find, in my experience at least, that anything I've ever had to choke down or really force myself through, I've forgotten. Every single time. That doesn't mean you might not want to force yourself through a boring chapter in an otherwise interesting book on occasion, or get through a not-so-interesting article online because it's the only place you've found to get that specific information you want. Just that if you're really not enjoying something and there's nothing forcing you to do it (as in, you're not studying for a test you really want to pass), then give up. If you're not enjoying it and not taking it in, what's the point?

Learn to quit

We live in a society that despises "quitters," and we're reminded of this in small ways on a very regular basis. Quitting is usually equated with "failure" (something else we're taught to avoid at all cost), when in fact quitting is sometimes the best and healthiest thing to do. If you thought you wanted to learn ballroom dancing, but then find you hate ballroom dancing class with a passion, stop going. If you loved a subject deeply and spent all your time studying it, but now find yourself no longer feeling it's draw, find something else you want to devote your time to. If everything you've been doing for years has been towards achieving a specific goal, yet you come to the realization that that's no longer a goal that will make you happy, let go of it. This is a lot harder in practice than in theory, but I know I've found much happiness when I realize something's no longer working for me, no longer what I want, and choose to let go.

Ask for help

Even for unschoolers, who usually strive to learn from their community, asking for help can be hard (or at least it can be for this perfectionist unschooler!). But I've had to come to realize that sometimes, you really do need to just ask for help. People are usually very happy to oblige in sharing something they know about and enjoy doing!

Teacher-taught Highland snare drummer

Don't fear mistakes

Again, this is something that even unschoolers can struggle with. Personally, I generally hate learning brand new skills in groups, because I feel really self-conscious about not being good at something, and making mistakes in front of others. But as for the above, sometimes you really need to learn with and around others, and mistakes aren't something to be ashamed of.

Don't compare yourself to others

I fail at this one all the time, yet I always strive to do better at it. Don't compare your body of knowledge to other people, your level of skill in specific subjects, how long it takes you to learn something, or how you learn something. It won't help and it will most likely leave you feeling self-conscious and inadequate (or the reverse, and give you the mistaken idea you're smarter or better than someone else, instead of just that you have different strengths).

Don't let others' ideas about the right way to learn get in your way

If a particular way of learning something suggested by a friend, a teacher, a parent, or a book is working for you, awesome. But just because somebody says that X way is the best way to learn, doesn't mean it's the best way for you. Experiment, be flexible, be suspicious of anyone who says there's only one way to learn anything, and most importantly just go with what works for you.

What have you found helpful to keep in mind when it comes to your own learning? What advice would you give to others? As usual, I love hearing what you all have to say!