A few years ago I set out to start this project I call Slow Learning. I hoped to create my own structure for do-it-yourself learning that might revolutionize adult education as we know it. I knew I couldn’t change the whole world at once, so I decided to start with myself.
I created a learning plan that included specific goals in the areas of writing, dance, visual art, publishing, and adult education. I intended to learn more by learning on my own than by enrolling in a more traditional program (like an MFA in creative writing, or doctorate in education).
In the meantime, I’ve learned a few lessons.
People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.
As a Slow Learner, I’m powerfully lucky! Without networks and mentors and other learners I get stuck in a vortex of procrastination and other forms of self defeat. Google and Wikipedia and Youtube aren’t people. The Internet is a great tool, one that has connected me to the most incredible teachers, AND I need other people to work with and to share ideas with face-to-face in real time.
Sometimes a witness, even one who says nothing, can be my most powerful ally. I write better when I think someone is reading. I run faster when someone’s running behind me. I paint more interesting work when I have a show coming up.
Tough love is good love. I need cheerleaders, friends who tell me my work is brilliant, even when what I do sucks. But more than cheerleaders, I need people to call me on my shit. I need people who give me hell for not doing what I said I would do. I need people who will tell me when I’m being small-minded and short-sighted. I need people who tell me I’m being too hard on myself and to ease up sometimes.
Learning goals can (and should) shift and change over time. Five years ago I said I wanted to “learn about new media.” I don’t even know what new media is! Now I have a goal to learn Gimp so that I can make my illustrations ready for self-publishing.
Spending money on learning is money well-spent.
Bartering for instruction seems to be effective for specific tasks. For example, I often offer artwork in exchange for editing. But for mentoring and teaching, I found that interest in bartered arrangements fizzles out quickly.
When I pay my mentors, teachers, (both friends, and strangers) with cold hard cash, magic happens. I consistently follow through on what I say I’m going to do. My mentors and teachers take me more seriously, too. When I invest money in my own goals, I find I keep those goals.
Because I paid my teachers and mentors directly, I spent much less than if I had paid for direct instruction through nearly any institution. I intend that my mentors and teachers earn more, per hour, working with me directly than if they were hired as adjunct by another institution.
Slow Learning is an idea whose time has come.
I may not have yet single-handedly revolutionized adult education as we know it, but the times, they are a changing. I’m happy to see efforts like DIY U, DIY MFA, Peer 2 Peer University, and get a little well-deserved media attention.
Often missing from do-it-yourself learning efforts is the personalized touch that comes from a small group of committed teachers and fellow learners. I’m looking forward to learning how we might develop caring, communities of learning complete with teachers and mentors and apprenticeships.