Damn You, Earnest

Hemingway infamously advised wanna-be writers to cultivate

…a built-in, shockproof, bull*$#! detector

and mine has been sounding off recently. It’s not a system I’ve nurtured, rather mine is by nature…I can’t remember not hearing it’s blip-blip, so I took a strange comfort in this quote at first…it was one of those light-bulb moments…maybe more a lightning strike of self-awareness quickly dimmed by the thunder of social disapproval…

It is true that any activity requiring socialization is best undertaken by leaving your BS detector at home…at least on vibrate…while I do work to keep it muted so I can move more nimbly through each day, our current situation requires me to sound the alarm. I mean, we’re already “socially distanced,” so it might be a good time…since some of you may not like what I’m gonna’ say…

It is precisely that we’re doing everything at a “social distance”…not least, learning, our mutual concern…so before your feathers get ruffled…indulge this ‘processing moment’ (Wut?! See what I did there?? Threw it back to my last post…no she di’int?!?) with me…

...but online classes don’t work for me…I just can’t learn that way.

Sorry, Chickadees, this is where I gotta’ call it…

Beeeeeep…

You can, my Favorite Fowl, you can learn and be successful online.

You can successfully learn online, on the ground, in the air. 
You can be learner who learns anywhere! 
You can learn inside, outside, upside down. 
When you learn to learn with a smile not a frown!

Suessical as it may sound…it’s actually science. A 2018 Stanford brain-scan study confirmed what Sesame Street has been trying to tell us since 1969, the attitude with which we approach learning is just as (if not more) significant than IQ…and they’re not alone, Carol Dweck and many others have been telling us for decades that we need check our ‘mindsets’ at the classroom door…it’s really just simple ‘law of attraction’…if we keep putting out “can’t” vibes…that “I’m not capable” boomerang’ll be back to hit us in the teeth every time.

Once we’ve locked in our “my little engine can” mantra, next up is a check-in on our ‘preferences.’ We’ve disguised (really through no fault of our own) our lazy learning habits in “learning style” costumes and “study strengths/preferences” accessories for too long. When theorists like Gardner and Fleming came along throwing out multiple intelligences and VARK instructional preferences, we scooped it up like candy….

Suddenly, we had an easy-out for grades less than we hoped they’d be…e.g. Prof. X’s teaching style doesn’t match my learning preferences OR I just don’t have a mind for math OR fill-in-the-__________ class just doesn’t work for me...

While well-intentioned and not without merit, most of these learning theories have done more harm than good. Research demonstrating the weaknesses and misapplication of these theories continues to mount. Let’s consider learning styles, for instance. We’ve all taken surveys that aim to tell us how we “prefer” to learn…and our results may indeed reflect our penchant for visual or kinesthetic experiences…but just because we prefer one thing to another, doesn’t make our preference any more beneficial than our aversion…I would choose java-chip over mint-chocolate-chip everyday of the week, but it doesn’t make ice cream a healthy dinner entree.

In a 2018 study published in the American Association for Anatomy, Husmann and O’Loughlin reach the same conclusion most research on the subject does, “…the conventional wisdom about learning styles should be rejected by educators and students alike.”

Fortunately, there is plenty of research offering alternatives that have been scientifically proven to work. SPOILER ALERT: They require effort…the kind of effort that may lead to sweating or swearing from time-to-time. The kind of effort that years and years of “passive learning” can make seem much more intimidating than it really is.

Here are some of the things we know are effective:

  • Space learning/study sessions out over time (interweaving concepts and subjects)
  • Experience the material in multiple modalities (incorporate a variety of “intelligences” and “preferences”)
  • Self-test (using a variety of formats, including the one the test will be given in)
  • Elaborate on material (make content and personal connections)

As far as online learning is concerned, many students who think they “can’t” learn this way are probably suffering from a case of “stranger danger.” Anything unfamiliar can produce discomfort or downright panic, especially if we feel coerced into “taking a ride.” But we should take comfort, most students do find with time and use of good strategies, online learning can become a positive, productive, and even preferred mode of instruction.

It does require:

  • Daily planning and time management (you simply MUST schedule time every day and every week to be in front of a screen, working in all of your classes…setting a daily/weekly schedule and sticking to it is the MOST important element of succeeding with online courseworkset your schedule in stone and do not, under any circumstances, barring being ill w/COVID-19, stray from your schedule until you have confirmation that you have passed your courses!)
  • Careful reading & time dedicated to reviewing all course information
  • Self-awareness and initiative (there’s nothing passive about online learning…it requires students to ask when they don’t know and seek when they can’t find)

If you can implement these 3 strategies, you are well on your way to lovin’ learnin’ online! Any additional “preferences” are there for the taking…do you like working with a “human being?” No problem…reach out to a tutor so you have a “processing buddy,” email your instructor for a Zoom meeting to ask some questions, connect with a few classmates on *Discord, Google Hangouts, Skype, or your preferred platform for some group study time, enlist the help of your spouse, your parents, or your kids…make learning a family activity…read together, teach them about what you’re learning, or have them quiz you. My 16-year-old ‘schools’ me daily on his ‘preferred’ tech tools (*see Discord above)

Like to hear and see rather than just read…check out YouTube for excellent educational channels on every subject under the sun, use audio/voice accessibility features in Google, Microsoft Edge, Word, or Adobe…the options are endless and the choices are yours! The only prerequisite for success online is that you must become an “active” learner…and since we’re waving our BS detectors around…no real learning happens, even for a student with perfect attendance, who claims a seat in the back row and avoids eye contact until class is dismissed.

So Chickens, I may have your hackles up…but I hope you are reading the intentions between these lines…

And then some! With the right attitude, the right tools, and the willingness to actively engage…you can learn here, there, and most anywhere! If it isn’t easy – it will get easier. If isn’t your preference – focus on your options. If you doubt me, I will leave you with these wise words from Hemingway…who, let’s remember, got us into this mess to begin with…

Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.

Holler Back Ya'll

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