Daily Prompt: TEACH ME O WISE ONE!

You have to learn a new skill. Do you prefer to read about it, watch someone else do it, hear someone describe it, or try it yourself?

“I don’t even have any good skills.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills… Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.”

– Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

I’ve never been a big reader. I remember as a child my parents  tried to make me read the C.S.Lewis classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I must have read the first 100 pages at least 3 times. Twenty years later and  I’ve still not finished that book. The problem wasn’t the book, the problem was my inability to absorb the information and retain it. Each time I tried to read it I’d get 100 pages in and forget even the basics of the story.

So in answer to your question, reading is out.

BSL Finger Spell AlphabetWatching others is an interesting idea. I notice it particularly  in my young son; he seems intent on copying everything I do. Whether it’s the finger I wag at him when I yell, ‘NO!’ or the little sign I use to say sorry (rubbing my chest in a circular motion), he’s picking up on a lot of my mannerisms. There’s something to be said for learning through watching others, it seems a pretty basic, natural method for learning.

Yet the traditional method for learning in the west is hearing rather than watching. Think back to your old school days. If they were anything like mine they consisted almost entirely of sitting and listening as the teachers explained medieval history, basic algebra and the precise definition of a peninsula. It worked pretty well for me, I seem to have a good memory and learnt enough to do well in all my exams. During my school years I learnt almost exclusively through absorbing the information during my classes.

However, I seem to hear (and read!) more and more often that this didactic form of education is unnatural, that it was only introduced by the Greeks. The now popular belief is that the most effective way to learn is a combination of demonstration and replication. Seeing and doing. On reflection it makes sense that learning a new skill without trying it yourself is almost certainly going to end in failure.

I’ve been learning British Sign Language for a few weeks now (a new skill) and so far it is entirely an exercise in seeing, repeating and refining.


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