Learning Styles and the Reasons for Learning.

It is well documented that everyone prefers to learn a different way. Some prefer to learn by doing, others by watching someone else.

Me, I have two preferred methods. Firstly, I like to undertake my own research. Then, once I’ve done a bit of research,  I like to take classes.  A recently scribbled down list revealed to me that I’ve taken no less than twelve courses in the past ten years, in subjects from a Study of Leonardo da Vinci (the ultimate scanner?) to beekeeping.

I’ve been asking myself why this is, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe I’ve truly learnt something unless I’ve been taught by a professional and then examined on my knowledge at the end of the course. Anything less than this doesn’t feel like a valid learning experience. Much like Monica Geller from “Friends”, I like being graded.

That’s not true of some things though, mainly because I don’t get that far with all of my interests. It’s a truth of being a scanner that there often comes a point at which you’ve learnt enough about something and it’s time to leave it alone and move onto something else. Often with me, this point comes at the end of a small amount of research, which is a rather glorified way of saying I have a look around the internet, in some library books and a couple of magazines and then I’m done.

However, sometimes, I’m not done. Sometimes I really would like to carry on with a particular interest, but I struggle to find the time to fit it into my life. Previously, the desire to do everything has sometimes prevented me from doing anything, as the fear of taking just one path stopped me from taking a single step in any direction. As I’ve started to understand myself more, and helped by a passage in the ‘The Renaissance Soul’ by Margaret Lobenstine (http://renaissancesouls.com ) that helped me to see that life is long enough, so there’s no need to constantly rush, I’ve got better at this. My new reasons for not progressing with everything as much as I’d like are rather more prosaic: time and money.

Recently I had the opportunity to spent a day volunteering with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (http://btcv.org.uk) and spent the day undertaking a variety of practical works, none of which I had any previous experience of. In all cases, to make the most of our time, we had to get stuck in, with supervision, and get working. There was no time for classroom education or researching a task. And, you know what? I loved it.

It may well have been the task, or the people, and it was certainly the feeling of making a contribution that made it such a great experience, but I have been thinking about it in terms of my own preferred learning styles too. I certainly learnt a lot and found it a positive day. So, I’ve decided to try different learning styles. By teaching myself, or asking friends with skills to pass them on, I may well learn more than I thought possible and enjoy the process too.

It also means that I will be financially more able to learn, as there will be no course fees to worry about. I can fit it into my life as there is no college timetable to consider and I can start right away, which will help me with the eternal struggle to balance life. But how do I cope with my belief that the learning isn’t valid without a test, without a professional grading my performance? I think that I need to understand more what the learning is for. Why do I want to learn? Is it to have qualifications? To be told that I’m brilliant? To tell others that I have a particular skill?

To understand this, I think I need to look at my previous courses; where I feel like I’ve succeeded and where I consider myself to have failed.

There are a few courses littered about my past that I started and never finished. The question is; why? Intermediate French is one. I happily passed the basic French course, which is about the equivalent to a grade A GCSE, which makes sense, as I already have that qualification, but I didn’t complete the next level up. On reflection, there are several reasons for this. One, was the time it took. This relates back to my earlier point about college timetables, which in this case was 16 hours a week; just too hard to find.

However, I think I would have tried harder, had I been enjoying the course. I simply didn’t enjoy learning about the language I might need to buy a house or set up a business in French. This is the crux of the matter. I learn so I can relate that learning to my life. The French I enjoyed learning was the language I use when I go to Paris every year. It’s one of my favourite places on Earth and I enjoy using the language I know when I’m there.

So, what does this mean?

  • That even though I think I am happier with some learning styles, I need to try others as they may be just as great, and will fit into my life better.
  • If I’m learning for fun and to use my skills in my life,  I don’t necessarily need to be examined to have succeeded.
  • Sometimes a formal course will not give me the type of knowledge I am looking for – I need to work with other people and ask them to share their skills.

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