I Am Able to Learn Quickly and Easily

Mark Twain famously said once that “If we learned walking and talking the way we learned to read and write, most of us would have had an unique limp and a typical stutter”. This would have become a signature style of our personality. Fortunately we learn to walk and talk at an age when we are innocent and curious – a combo package with which we are born. Then our ‘well-wishers’ beginning with our parents slowly teach us what is right, wrong, good, bad, smart, dumb that we form a black and white picture (digital signal) of the world.

2 of the most difficult skills in our life we learn – walking and talking when our brains are still developing. In fact these 2 skills once developed are a part of the motor muscle memory and helps in further cognitive development. If we can see the enormity of the learning to be done at an age when we are least equipped, it is amazing to realise that ‘we’ actually ‘learnt’ to do both when we did not know what walk and talk meant. We were obviously not even aware of its utility and most importantly we were ‘blissfully ignorant’ of the ‘price’ we had to pay to learn these skills. It is no surprise that we learnt them perfectly, simply because we were kids. No wonder when an adult tell his friend that he is going to learn something, the normal response is ‘Hey!! Are your kidding?’ Yes seriously speaking we must awaken the kid within us to learn. The enormity of this realisation gets even larger when you realise that people learning beyond walking to other forms of exercise and motion do it with such a non-standard level of expertise. We all walk (which is a permanent state of imbalance needing to be obviated by this forward motion) in a standard form related to our height and bio rhythm. There is no racial or biological difference when we first became bipeds in our childhoods. As we grow into adolescence and finally adults we develop unique styles of walking and unique habits about and attitudes towards walking. Some enjoy while some detest walking. Some do it as a routine while some curse it while doing it as an exercise. These attitudes towards the skill of walking and its purpose and utility in our lives have also been learned. But unfortunately we learned this all during our adult lives.

The story with skill of talking is very much similar. All children pick up the sounds and the childhood vocabulary and enjoy finding out the relationship between a sound and the object/person it is ascribed to. It is a crazy and scary thing for an adult to even attempt to learn in such a manner but it is effective precisely for the same reason. A toddler has a vocabulary of upto 50 words which he can correlate. He babbles in his baby talk unassumingly but with absolute joy, and which typically only mothers can grasp. Imagine us trying to linkup 50 sounds to 50 objects/person without any pattern emerging and also without an evident purpose and that too doing it with joy. But that is the real secret. The further learning in the field of language from talking to learning alphabets, grammar, etc. are normally not so fun filled and fraught with all evils of adult learning. It is a well-documented finding that public speaking is one of the greatest fears most adults suffer from. Of course there are adults who enjoy the field and take it up to a level of a hobby or a full time profession.

That brings us to the point that adults unlike Kids only learns about those things what he really enjoys. Alternatively the benefits of the learnings being evident and translates into some worldly advantages either in career or personal life can be an equally strong motivator. However and this is the one big ‘if’. If the learning is painful and fraught with lot of effort, it can temper down the motivation. We still find adults who are ready to work hard and put in the effort. Most of them except a few then met a great leveller called Failure. Most adults just do not like this word and refuse to get associated with it. The refusal to fail prevents us from putting in the effort to learn even when we know it is doable and in fact useful. The joy of the outcome does not enable enduring the pain of the learning. The trade-off OR the ‘price’ is too big to pay. We have a brilliant skill of rationalising (also learned from our role models in life) which helps us explain away such decisions so that the recalled memories of such decisions is self-effacing. That is precisely why many of the soft skills and even updated knowledge on your fields of specialisation can be very challenging to learn. This is akin to a baby who prefers to be on his fours and refusing to stand up and walk. We have lost that innocence, the curiosity, the joy of learning at that altar called Ego, my self-image which is anything but fully true. The affirmations, children (unwittingly and innocently) and good learners (developed consciously) of all ages use are as follows

1. I am able to learn quickly and easily

2. As my view of the world evolves, I am better able to navigate my way through it successfully

3. I find new ways to learn and to improve my abilities even further.

As an adult these affirmations replace that innocent curiousity of a kid which is unconditional and is persistent till the curiosity is satiated. As adults we also know that our brain also keeps regenerating and like any muscle this ‘mental muscle’ needs exercises and nothing better than learning can do this. Well many adults believe that we are forced to learn to survive in this bitter and competitive world. However any learning which is not associated with that positive empowering emotion is never a learning. It becomes learning the hard way which in most cases leaves the knowledge gained only used when there is no choice. It can never replace an habit which makes you happy about yourself every time you use it.

Another blinder we adults have is that learning has to be about something tangible and something knowledge driven. It has to be a recipe, or a book, or something associated with getting a certificate. Sadly these are about ‘one in a million opportunity’. I am using this term to say that there are million more things to ‘learn’. Learn how people work, what makes them work, why they do what they do, why they do things the way they do. Hold on… learn means not judging but just trying to understand without any biases. You need not agree with your learning! Enjoy the findings without any value judgement. This is what happens when we pursue a hobby, learn to consume drink, have cigarettes and hence we do a ‘good job’ at it. There are here too awful examples of people pursuing hobbies and pastimes not to learn or enjoy but to demonstrate their social status. So learning is all encompassing and an eternal need and capability which we can develop and practise.

A obedient child does not grow into a responsible parent and age into a gracious grandparent just like that. We would love it to be that way or may even believe it to be so, but at each stage there is learning involved. Whether you enjoyed learning it or was forced to learn or avoided learning it leaves you with varying degree of satisfaction and self-worth. Good SME (subject matter experts) and great leaders have this in common. An healthy curiousity, uninhibited confession of ignorance, reflects on outcome with objectivity and an appetite for experimenting and taking risks. Truly good learners would straddle this propensity across both professional and personal domains. The simple definition of learning is whenever you get that ‘aha’ moment after doing something – an unconditional happiness and joy without apparent reason but unmistakably true and clearly perceived. It is the way our body tells us that we picked up something new and we enjoyed learning it because we saw the benefit of doing that and it was a satisfying experience.

How often do you get this? I get it every day without fail. I get it because I know I am learning every day. I have realised that the learning was always happening. It was simple that I did not value it since I did not ‘think’ it was something great, though my body ‘felt’ good. Keep celebrating every time you get that aha moment; congratulate your Body. Just say loudly Good Job done. Pat yourself on the back. Give yourself a large smile in the mirror. The kid inside you like this. Still it is no ‘child’s play’ to do these affirmations. When you do not do them for weeks and months on end our body signals of that ‘aha moment’ gets weakened till we no longer pick it up. Once I started to acknowledge my aha moment successes every day I could see more of it daily. The degree of learning varies, the overall impact it has on my life varies, but the extent of ‘Aha’ feeling is identical day after day. So widen your meaning of the word ‘learn’ and Enjoy Learning on a daily basis.

What It Means to Create an Online Learning Environment

Online education has been well-established and continues to sustain progress. In addition, online classes have been popular, even among traditional colleges, and there is still ongoing growth. While there is a focus on technology the basics of adult education do not change. The question then becomes of matter of whether or not learning conditions can be created by or enhanced through the use of technology. For someone new to this environment they may also wonder if learning can take place. The fundamental process of learning and knowledge acquisition doesn’t change but the conditions have and this can either enhance or detract from students’ development. Creating a course online and adding students does not guarantee they will learn. This occurs through conditions the instructor creates and interactions they have with their students.

Technology Enabled Environment

Over time the use of technology in education has become prevalent, with phrases such as hybrid classes and a flipped classroom indicating how traditional education has evolved. It is not a matter of just using technology to create a course; it depends upon how well students interact with and utilize the technology. The number of schools offering online classes and degree programs has created a large base for students. This means that for-profit universities no longer hold a significant market advantage. What educators find in a standard online classroom is a place for resources, a gradebook, a place for discussions, and other features such as course announcements. The classroom interface has also evolved over time and many LMS providers offer easier navigation tools and resources to create a better user experience.

Challenges for Instructors

One of the first challenges concerns who is responsible for ensuring that learning takes place. For example, can a curriculum developer set up a course and create the atmosphere necessary? Of course the answer is no because it requires a human element. Another challenge is that the instructor needs to be an active participant – from the first post to materials selected to their interactions with students. If an instructor maintains an active presence this helps to set the stage for learning to occur. If the instructor is not active or not mindful of class conditions, it will lessen the effectiveness of the ability for students to learn.

Even if conditions are optimal, students must also be involved in and receptive to the learning process. Students must learn how to utilize the tools and resources that have been made available to them. In addition, instructors and students must learn to work together. Throughout my work as an online educator one of the most common complaints I hear is that the online class can feel mechanical in nature and new students who are not academically prepared can get overwhelmed and disengage from the class. This poses another challenge for educators as not all students are suited for this type of environment.

Creating Optimal Conditions

For an online class, technology creates the environment and technological tools will be added based upon the course design. An instructor is assigned, students are added, and class begins. What transforms this environment so that it becomes productive? Instructors are given a checklist of facilitation duties and meeting those requirements will ensure the class runs according to plan. The test for instructors is in the specifics of those assigned duties. For example, with class discussions there are a specific number of posts that are often required of the instructor and the purpose is to engage them in a dialogue with students. Those posts need to stimulate students’ thought processes and curiosity, while connecting course concepts to real life. In addition, feedback is not just about a grade – although it is an indicator of progress being made. The purpose of feedback is to engage students in the content, add corrective comments to address developmental needs, and provide an itemization of the points earned.

Engaging Students in the Process

Classroom conditions involve what an instructor is actively doing. Engagement is about the content and effectiveness of interactions. For discussion question posts, consider how you address the student, invite the class to join in the conversation, acknowledge and validate their perspectives, add your expertise or experience, and then build a meaningful dialogue. For the feedback provided, provide comments for both the content of what was written and the mechanics. This is a teaching moment and if you provide feedback that matters, students are likely to start reading it week after week.

For communication with students, consider if you are viewed as approachable and responsive. This includes the tone that you take, which can be short and curt or warm, friendly, and helpful. In addition, be sure to respond to students in a timely manner so that you can alleviate their concerns. Never tell a student to “see the syllabus” as it is not very helpful and may deter them from further communication. Teach students where to look for information and encourage them so that you boost their confidence and engagement in the class.

Facilitation Strategies

An effective strategy for an online instructor is to develop an action plan and then conduct weekly self-reflection and self-assessment. An educator always has room to grow and improve. For new instructors it is helpful to develop a checklist of the basic course requirements. A seasoned instructor can break down tasks into specific days or time periods – as they know it takes time and effort to nurture a class full of students. Learning is not housed in an online classroom shell; it resides in the required activities and interactions between instructors and students. The basic rules of education apply – acquire information and knowledge, and then demonstrate what was learned and the progress made towards course outcomes.

What has made online classes a better choice for many students is that they do more than memorize the material for a test. There are authentic tasks such as written projects and required class participation that promotes learning. A course shell establishes a place for students to meet and resources to be acquired; however, it is purposeful, effective, and meaningful teaching that creates the conditions for learning to take place. Students who become motivated to participate in the process and immerse themselves in the discussions and required activities will find that they can learn and grow, even with the use of technology.

Why Is Critical Thinking Critical to Learning?

Are you concerned with the thought process your students utilize when they are working on their assignments or participating in class discussions? Do you consider it important that your students demonstrate an ability to think through important course concepts? Do you want your students to do something more in class than recite facts and state opinions? The process of critical thinking is a structured method of analyzing, processing, and interacting with information. When instructors encourage students to implement this formal approach to thinking they begin to work with information by using logic, reasoning, and higher-order cognitive processes. Critical thinking becomes critical to learning when students are directly engaged in the process of learning and knowledge creation.

As an instructor, how do you know that learning has occurred? Students learn about various topics and subjects throughout the course and they acquire knowledge through the materials and information provided. Learning objectives are designed to guide the activities and assessments implemented by the instructor. Course outcomes are established as a means of projecting a desired result for students by the end of the class, which includes demonstrating the use of academic skills, overall developmental progress and knowledge acquisition.

The most common forms of assessment for use in measuring students’ progress and learning include a written paper and an exam. Often a written paper will consist of fact gathering, presenting an essay, or stating beliefs and opinions. An exam will measure information that students can recall based upon what they have learned and what they have memorized. When an instructor wants students to demonstrate their thought process by working with ideas, solving problems, reaching conclusions, and developing original thinking about a subject, advanced cognitive skills are required.

The basic premise of cognition involves the way that the mind processes information. Bloom’s taxonomy is often cited for its explanation of the cognitive functions. Students can be taught to utilize higher-order cognitive skills when they have a technique that focuses their thinking. Instructors can encourage the use of critical thinking as it provides the tools necessary to guide students through the cognitive development process. Students are encouraged to seek answers, find new solutions, consider alternatives, explore other options, develop their own ideas, and question what they read rather than accept it as fact.

Critical thinking becomes critical to learning when students gather information, transform that information by working with it and analyzing it, and acquire knowledge that meets their developmental and professional needs. It is a process of focused thinking that can demonstrate progress and skill set development, which allows students to be actively engaged in the process of learning and the class. As a result, it also provides instructors with a means of measuring progress made towards course outcomes and learning objectives.