A slow learner by any other name may be an expert novice

Today I complained to my highly opinionated son that I’ve been  suffering from a severe case of distractability. I had been reading Jerzy Grotowski’s  Towards a Poor Theatre when I was supposed to be doing a million other things I’d started and hadn’t finished.  I’ve been thinking about how cool it would be to set up a lab where a group of friends would do theatre games and mind experiments. Sounds like a great idea, I know, but I have no expertise in theatre. This is totally out of my field (whatever that is).  How am I ever supposed to get anything done when there is so much to do, so much to try,  so much to learn?jerzy cover

I’ve come to trust John to comfort me in times like these by offering me yet further distractions, suggestions for even more reading and movies and cool stuff to look at online. True to my expectations, John emailed me this reply.

“On being distractable, I just ran across this in a footnote, quoted by Katie Salen (the slow games lady):

Situated learning is …constituted by immersion in meaningful practices within a community of learners who are capable of playing multiple and different roles based on their backgrounds and experiences. The community must include experts, that is people who have mastered certain practices. Minimally, it must include expert novices, that is people who are experts at learning new domains in some depth.

Such experts can guide learners, serving as mentors and designers of their learning processes. (New London Group, 2000, p. 33)

‘Expert Novice’ —  That’s what I am.  Constantly excited (distracted) by the allure of learning a new skill, or entering a new domain.  Not so great at actually doing anything with those skills, but great at learning them.  The term ‘dilettante’ is far too negative, and ‘renaissance man’ is far to arrogant. Until now I haven’t had a good way to express the learning and living style that I enjoy so much. I’m an expert at being a novice, and learning communities need me. So there.  Last night I spent 4 hours learning about VJing.  I have no plans to be a VJ.”

I find it kind of funny that John would say this since I had just told a friend that what I really wanted to do with my life was to be a VJ for wild and crazy dance events. Of course, as with many of my impulses, that too passed.

I know I will forever and will always be an expert novice.  And now, thanks to John and Katie Salen, I can be a little less shy about being one.


Postscript: When John and his sister Liz were little I used to tell them that the Ice Cream Truck was really a Music Truck.  I said that the van that would ride around with kids running after it was just for entertaining us with music. Turns out Katie Salen had a similar idea.  Check out Karaoke Ice. You, too,  can be a novice expert on her site for hours. That is until something else distracts you.