How I Learn
by Beverley Paine
I believe that "I live, therefore I learn!"
I can't avoid learning: it's as natural as breathing (John Holt). As an asthmatic I know that, just as breathing can be laboured and hard work, so can learning...
When I look at how I learn best I can see the following processes happening:
I become immersed in whatever it is that I am interested in learning. I find out as much as I can about my task or interest, it becomes almost obsessive until my appetite for information or quest for skills has abated. I become totally focussed and involved. It doesn't matter if I am learning to tie a shoe lace or rebuild a combustion engine, the concentration that follows my intense interest drives the learning process. This is immersion. This is natural learning.
I recognise that as an individual I would learn very little on my own and left to my own devices. Humans are social creatures: we learn by watching and by listening to others. Sometimes this is called imitation, or another less favoured word is copying. I observe the demonstrations that take place everyday of those skills and actions I need or want to emulate. The higher my interest or passion in what's happening around me the more attentive I am. If I wanted to learn to play piano I would seek out the company of other pianists and watch, listen and learn, copy their playing techniques, ask them to demonstrate their skill for me.
Observation and demonstration are key aspects to natural learning. But learning doesn't flow from simply observing others demonstrating skills, or listening to the knowledge and wisdom of others. Learning involves engagement , actively doing whatever it is I need to do in order to learn.
The best learning occurs when my interest is focussed and I am using my whole body. I am an active learner: a person that 'does' as well as 'think'. I actively construct my experiences within a social context. No one learns in a social vacuum. Whether the expectation to learn and succeed comes from within ourselves or from others this expectation is a necessary aspect of learning.
A high level of expectation of success is a prerequisite to success. Natural learners trust in the innate ability of children and adults to learn. This trust is grounded on a firm foundation of acute observation of past experience. Most importantly, as a learner, I feel supported by this trust and faith in my ability to be a successful learner by important people in my life.
I understand the responsibility for learning rests completely with me, the learner. To engage in meaningful and successful learning I may engage the services of a teacher, but the teacher can't coerce or force me to learn if I am not interested or motivated to learn at that particular moment.
I can remember many times learning 'parrot fashion' or memorising lessons in school that had no meaning for me. I scarcely remember the content of those lessons, and realise that much of what I learned at school was because I had to, rather than because I wanted to or because it made sense to learn it at the time. I rarely understood why I needed to learn what was put before me. Most of it has either left me completely or has never been of any use in adult life.
When I think back to my most successful learning experiences as a child I can see that I was engaged, interested and passionate. I now recognise that these were also the times that I carried the responsibility for my own learning: times I was allowed to be fully responsible for the learning occurring.
Of course, it is important to use and practice new learning or it quickly fades. This isn't the same as rote memorising or doing endless pages of drill exercises. Using a new skill or applying knowledge in a meaningful context a couple of times is all that is required to firmly cement them into the realms of experience, ready to be recalled and used at any time in the future. We tend to forget those things that are not of use, or interest or learned without full engagement of our minds and bodies.
As a learner I often make mistakes: experiments, estimations, guesses, approximations, 'have a go', try things out . This is another essential aspect of the learning process. Everyone makes mistakes while learning and that's okay. Some people value 'mistakes' highly, interpreting them as opportunities or expressions of creative or lateral thinking!
Viewing 'mistakes' as positive learning experiences opens up many doors, inviting learners on journeys of discovery.
The wisest piece of advice on learning that I have heard was to value the process of asking questions over that of discovering answers. The question is the key to discovery, and the question can never be wrong!
All of us need feedback, some kind of response to our learning journeys. I know I do. Natural learners don't thrive on reward or punishment - stickers, certificates or detention - no one does. Natural learners thrive on meaningful and positive feedback. Critical evaluation needs to be continuous, reflective, constructive, positive and supportive.
Learning is a natural phenomenon. It is like breathing. When it stops, you're dead! It occurs in the home education learning environment regardless of educational philosophy and methodologies adopted. Taking advantage of this type of learning offers a superior education seldom found in educational institutions.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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