Monday, September 9, 2013

Old Dog Learning Strategies

Learning to do something new is rarely easy. It can be particularly frustrating when you are very good at the old things, but the new thing...not so much. Even more frustrating is when the new thing resembles the old things to an extent that you believed that learning the new thing would come easy. So suddenly, in addition to learning something new, you question your ability to properly evaluate how long it will take you to learn this new thing. Identity shaken, you start to question your ability to do the old things at the level you've always believed you could do.

That's where the dog comes in--of the female variety--just to blow off some verbal steam. Add familial terms as needed.

When the cussing is done and you inexplicably--yet inevitably--feel better, here are some thoughts, strategies, and general ideas about how to deal with the frustrations involved with learning to do new things.

First, know that as frustrating as this is for you, you are not the only one. Take comfort in the camaraderie of hair-pulling, eye-bulging, stream of consciousness cursing that is learning frustration.

Second, there are two ways to combat new learning: blindly bulldozer your way through it, or take a break until you can see straight. Both strategies can be effective; the trick is knowing which one will work for you, at any given time, and in a particular situation.

Third, tell me about it. No, really. Talking to someone--even if that person has no way to help you learn what you are trying to learn--can be just the frustration relief you need. People say things that get your brain going in different directions; sometimes they are merely distracting, which can dig your train of thought free from its rut. Either way, other people are helpful beyond their ability to help with the learning task.

Fourth, people--in all of their 21st century forms--can also be great sources of information. People post blogs, make videos, and comment profusely online of every topic imaginable. Find a mentor--even in video or blog form--and let them help you learn.

Finally, if all else fails, reevaluate your goals. Is the goal of your learning essential to your life/work? Is there another way to get the same results? Is this something you need to learn? How could you go about achieving the same result differently? Is it worth your time and trouble, or could you pay/bribe/coerce (with something like chocolate, of course) someone to do it for you? How much are you willing to pay (time, money, energy, sanity) and what do you expect to get in return? Then ask yourself, is it worth it? What's the most cost-effective way to do this? Make an informed decision based on your answers, and go with it.

Learning completely new things always comes with frustration. As we build our capacity to handle that frustration, it becomes easier. Students need practice building frustration capacity, as well. As with anything, the more you do it, the easier (and more of a habit) it becomes. Just as adults sometimes need reminders, rut-breakers, mentors, and inspiration, so to do students; since their job is learning, they may need even more reminders, rut-breakers, mentors and inspiration. In the end, if they try all of the above strategies, work hard but still fail, students need to know that it is smart to reevaluate their goals and see if it's worth it to them to keep going. So much of the failure students feel is because they give up. But sometimes, that's the best strategy to take. After evaluating the situation, sometimes it's the only strategy to take. We need to help students face that and recognize that just because you've failed to learn one thing, it doesn't mean that you can't learn anything. It just means that you're human.

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