Do it yourself learning.

The First Post:

Right, here goes, the first post in blog section of my new site. As of yet I have no idea what the tone of this blog will be, nor am decided on what content it will deal with, but I guess starting off aimlessly is better than not starting off at all. I’ve exaggerated a bit, I have sort of a direction for this blog. I’m going to be posting a selection of entries on the LEAP (UBC’s academic resources site) and those posts are going to have an academic focus. If I do run out of time for regular posting, then that might be the whole focus of this blog, but hopefully once I get into the swing of things I will have other more interesting tidbits to write here.

Ok, on to the main topic of this post… do it yourself learning (starting with the whole academic theme right…)

Teaching yourself to do something is so much harder than having someone else teach it to you. I never used to think that, I was always one of the people who sat in class going “I really don’t need to hear some idiot regurgitate the textbook to me”, or grumbling “why do I have to do his silly assignments… I could make much better ones”. I was wrong! The thing is, the difficulty doesn’t lie in understanding…no, no, no… The difficulty lies in motivation.

OK, let me track back and give you some context for this story. Being a Computer Science Major and wanting to do web design for CO-OP I decided that over the summer I would teach myself PHP and JavaScript (internet programming languages). It didn’t seem like too big a task. I mean it is summer, I’m not taking courses (you know how I feel about summer courses) and they are really some of the easiest programming languages to learn. Things have not been working out and it’s the fault of motivation!

I guess the problem is that we like to be able to do interesting things. Advanced genetic research is cool… you could spend hours doing it out of your own enjoyment (or is it just me?) However, in order to do advanced genetic research you have to know all about how genes work. To know about how genes work you need to become familiar with them. Just reading that A and T nucleotides match (I’m not even sure if that is right) is not enough, you will forget it. Thus you have to do examples, matching A and T nucleotides yourself. That is a very, very boring exercise. It’s hard enough to do when you have it on an assignment, or have to do it on an exam… but doing it without those incentives… approaches impossibility.

Ok, so what to do? If it approaches impossibility (Ok, Ok, I know that is a bit of hyperbole… but it’s still very hard) how do we learn anything by ourselves. I guess the way that I have found most helpful is to do the teacher’s job first. Don’t start by just trying to learn something… create a syllabus. Include a timeline, assignments and big projects. Make it look all formal and stick to it. I know it takes a bit of extra work, but if you think it is really important to pick up that skill, then it’s worth it.

Cheers for now,

5 thoughts on “Do it yourself learning.

  1. I know what you mean, although i guess I’m coming from an Arts perspective.

    It’s hard to read a book that’s supposed to be a “classic” and really understand what the author’s getting at, without having info about his/her background and context… stuff that you’d normally learn in a class.

    It sucks having to slog through Wikipedia articles by yourself in search of necessary background info or history, and then picking out the relevant tidbits from that…

    That’s why I’m always incredulous when I hear about those geniuses who teach themselves to speak another language or to do web design without taking a class. Really, who has that kind of motivation? It’s impressive, but I find it kind of sketchy as well…

    haha long comment

  2. I find it often has a lot to with location. I could never do something like learn a language at my summer home. But if I can force myself to go to the library for 2 hours every day, it mimics the school environment, and once there, there’s not much to do but learn, even with the occasional daydreaming. That’s how I’ve prepared for standardized tests in the summer.

  3. This suggests one of forthcoming problems with open education: even if we open up all our learning materials to the world, who will use them without significant intrinsic or extrinsic motivation? Where does such motivation originate from? How is it sustained?

    I know for me, at least, I may think I have significant motivation for using OER and learning independently, however when it gets down to it, Power = Load/Time, and best intentions don’t cut it.

  4. I think the motivation can come from new paradigms of learning. I just read this article which contains the following quote from John Seely Brown:

    once you start going to school, in some ways you start to learn much slower because you are being taught, rather than what happens if you’re learning in order to do things that you yourself care about…. Very often just going deeply into one or two topics that you really care about lets you appreciate the awe of the world … once you learn to honor the mysteries of the world, you’re kind of always willing to probe things … you can actually be joyful about discovering something you didn’t know … and you can expect always to need to keep probing. And so that sets the stage for lifelong inquiry.

    I think that learning has its own intrinsic motivations as well as some of the more obvious extrinsic ones (for example getting a job). What needs to happen though is for new learning methods to be used that can help to expose our intrinsic motivations.

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