Self-Learning

In which RVA talks about learning at home…

Home-school and isolation are hot topics right now.  As I write this, they’re kind of mandatory, but a lot can happen between typing on a keyboard and hitting ‘post’ on a social media page.

More than a few people have been relying on the syllabi provided by scholastic programs.  And that’s a perfectly valid way to go.  No fault at all in going with a pre-made program.  But keep in mind there are more options available to you than merely grade-specific programs.

One is online learning.  I don’t mean from colleges (although that’s available).  You have a host of programs like Coursera, Skillshare, and the like.  It’s amazing some of the programs they have available.  Now, some are taught by more reputable sources than others.  But just because someone’s resume is a little light doesn’t mean they don’t know their stuff.  And just because someone has won a gazillion awards for art doesn’t mean they are a good art teacher.  Be choosy, but remember that learning and doing are two different things.  The best in a field may not make for the best at teaching that skillset.

But you don’t have to pay money for these programs.  There’s a wealth of programs and curriculums on free sources like Youtube.  But finding those programs can be every bit as challenging as finding them on Coursera and the like.  But they come down to a few simple steps.

Step #1 – Decide What You Want To Learn

It seems obvious but it can be surprisingly tricky.  What do you want to learn?  Or if you’re a parent, what do you want your kids to learn?  Saying ‘I want them to know math’ is great, but math is a whole field of study.  Algebra?  Calculus?  Trigonometry?  Statistics?  Financial math?  The details can be important.  Remember, the curriculums in schools were developed to prepare kids for a deliberate skillset.

If you want to study art, good for you!  You poor sod.  But why?  What do you want to be able to produce?  Want to do watercolors?  Want to sketch manga?  Want to draw your own hentai?  Be honest about it!  But it will help guide you.  Yeah, some skills are universal (anatomy, structure, spacing), but how you create those things and work with them can be very specific to the medium you want to work with and the genre you want to work in.

Step #2 – Decide What Success Means

So you want your kids to take a math course.  Cool!  What does success mean?  Do they just watch all the videos?  Not the worst definition, I suppose, but not exactly practical.  If you want them to take financial math, what if when its over, they create a budget for a household or a business?  Or maybe just give a presentation on what they learned.

You want to do an art program.  Great!  Go for it!  You poor sod.  When it’s all over, what do you want to be able to draw?  Want to be able to paint a watercolor in a single afternoon?  Want to be able to produce one comic panel a day?  One comic page a day?  Define success.

Step #3 – How Long Do You Have?

How long you study will determine how much effort you have to put into a process and how much you have to practice and cram.  If you want to become a financial wizard in a week, you’ve got a LOT of studying to do and a LOT of practice to put in.  Can it be done?  Yeah, maybe.  But it won’t be pleasant.

If you spread your practice out too long and you will forever struggle to retain what you need to know.  Or you’ll get bored.  Watch one video a week and you’ll forget the previous installment by the time you start the next.  Retention hinges on keeping the information fresh and available.

Step #4 – Goal divided by Time Period equals Rate of Study

So, let’s say you have 60 videos in your math course.  Well, two videos a day, five days a week, and you’ve got yourself a six-week class (60 / 10 = 6).  So you start on Monday, Friday six weeks from now, you ‘graduate’…or perform your final exam.  For ‘homework’, re-do the work from the previous day’s videos.  Starting the second week, also do the work from the previous week’s videos on that day.  This will help refresh the details and keep you connecting concepts.

Step #5 – What Now?

After you’ve completed your program, what happens?  Do you just forget the subject?  Now that you’ve drawn a comic, do you just not worry about ever picking up a pencil again?

Believe it or not, that’s perfectly fine.  Once you start doing a thing, you don’t have to do it in perpetuity.  You can try something, pursue a goal, achieve some capability, and then forget it.  Because one of two things will happen: you will have a new appreciation for how hard others work or you will find you enjoyed that skill and actively want to return to it.  Either one benefits you and the world at large.  And if you try it and forget it, who knows if it might come back to you in a year or a decade?  You might be chatting with some friends and suddenly your knowledge of financial math could make for the anecdote of the night.

Step #6 – How Much Can You Take?

Human beings can learn a lot and we can learn very quickly, though few of us can do both.  School is composed of multiple subjects for a variety of reasons, but one of them is because we can learn only for a short period of time on a given subject.  Typically, attention and focus (and retention) starts to drop off after about twenty-thirty minutes.  But if you’ve got a whole day ahead of you, the solution is to study different topics.

You can devise whole set-ups that work great: the Three Rs (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic), the Classic Four (math, science, literature, and history), or even the Five Senses (cooking for test, chemistry for smell, art for vision, language or music for hearing, physics for touch).  A set of classes can compliment each other nicely.  Cycle through them each day, or even twice a day if you keep the classes short enough.  Give a five or ten-minute break between each class and suddenly, you’ve got a comprehensive and complete educational program.

Simple, right?

Simple…but not easy.  And don’t forget the shoulders you’re standing on.  All those Youtube videos and Coursera programs?  Somebody put those together.  If they’re free, throw them a shoutout or buy their material.

Either way, good luck!

Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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