How do you learn?

A discussion in the Student Lounge at Quilt University made me start thinking about this. Lilian pointed out that people tend to learn with visual, auditory, or tactile methods.  I think you would have to divide visual into subsets – watching something is certainly visual but so is reading, where you are looking at the words and pictures.

I find that the kind of thing I am trying to learn has a lot to do with how I can learn it.

For example, if we are talking about concepts, I would rather read and see the words than listen to someone lecture.  I am happy to talk about it after absorbing it on my own.  I find many people difficult to listen to.  All those voiceovers on TV documentaries and those old school films – I just want to go to sleep!  People raved about the Civil War PBS series.  I lasted about 10 minutes.  I was bored out of my mind.

With more physical things, it depends on where I am in the learning scale.  With a new concept for sewing, I want to see it done.  Maybe more than once.  Partly that is because I was apparently off getting a snack when spatial skills were passed out.  Remember those tests in school where they show an unfolded shape and ask you what it would be when put together?  I could STILL be sitting in front of that paper and wouldn’t know.

When I teach quilting, it is embarrassing to put triangles up on the wall. If I start with them, I will have no idea which way they should face unless I am looking at a diagram.  I have come to accept that this is just a black hole in my brain.

(To digress for a minute, did you know that some people are born with face blindness?  They simply cannot distinguish one face from the other, and that includes their own face.  Imagine looking into a mirror and not realizing it is you because you don’t remember what you look like from one time to the next!  I recently saw a fascinating interview with the famous British neurologist and psychologist, Oliver Sacks, and he has this condition.  Imagine seeing patients and never knowing if you saw them before!  I’ll take my little spatial problem without complaint.)

Placement of shapes aside, I have been sewing since I was 13 and quilting since 1978, so I can usually visualize the steps in assembling by reading the directions,  which I suppose makes me still a visual learner for physical skills, since I am picturing it.

And yet, I still only want to see the actual motion needed for doing the task.  I know videos are the popular way to learn but I find I am squirming in my seat after 10 minutes.

I remember being sent to a workshop for Word Perfect when I was working in an office.   It turned out to be a room full of tiny tables with an overhead projector.  We got a sheaf of sketchy notes and most of the information came from a disembodied voice while hands on the screen performed the task.  The program moved rapidly from one skill to the next, with no repetition and not enough time to write down the steps.  And we certainly didn’t get to try anything ourselves.

I could tell in 5 minutes that I would have to choose one or two things and try to get those written down in enough detail to repeat them in the office.  The big one was mail merge and I managed to remember enough to get it to work.   How anyone ever mastered a wholly new program with that approach, I cannot imagine.

Learning things on the computer falls into a whole new category, often closer to a level of Hell than a learning experience.  I seem able to grasp the word-related tasks much easier than those in the graphics programs.  Naturally, as soon as I have reached a level of competence, the next version comes out.  I resist as long as possible and usually end up getting version 3 when version 4 is released.

Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t bother to upgrade but our computers last about 5 years and then you are faced with a new operating system which is too snooty to run your old software.  The end result is that I seem to learn fewer new things on each successive version.

So how do you learn?  And how do you compensate when the situation provides you with the information in a way that doesn’t work for you?


5 thoughts on “How do you learn?

  1. As always, I had a couple of chuckles with your post. Just a few days back, I told my best friend, for the umpteenth time, that I must be some type of an idiot to have chosen this activity that requires such a strong spatial skill. I have none at all! I struggle every time I make a quilt (I do not use any patterns.) And yet, it is a challenge that I want to take over and over again.
    My learning ways are very similar to yours, but there are some things that I cannot seem to learn, they do not stick to my brain, and I need to read the directions every time I want to make them. Maybe I would need to repeat them tirelessly until I get them etched onto my brain.

    • Comforting to know I am not the only one. Years ago, I was teaching in North Carolina and someone showed me the dimensional bow tie block.

      I knew I would never remember it because it involved a tricky bit of folding. I made the sample right up to the stitching part, so I could manipulate the pieces and see where to fold when I sewed. I pinned that to my curtains (which doubled as my bulletin board in those days) and it was a handy key whenever I wanted to make that block.

      Maybe that trick would work for the things you are having a problem with?

  2. I need everything written down. Unless I have tried a technique before, I don’t get it just watching someone do it once. The light bulb doesn’t go off in my head until I remember we did something in QU class and go back to the class notes and review. The I have an AH HA moment.

    • I’m like you, Gin. Better with notes – especially step by step when something is complex. Watching a practiced person whiz through it isn’t going to help when I get into my sewing room.

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