Free information for slow learners: a few favorite sources

Open Culture Directory to everything on the web you want to learn. Just about everything. Links to tons of free media.

InFed Encyclopedia of learning in and (mostly) outside of classrooms.

Khanacadamy Didn’t quite understand 2nd Order Linear Homogeneous Differential Equations in math class? Still have a hard time understanding the relationship between bond prices and interest rates?  Let this hottie break it down for you. Simple lectures on thousands of complex topics.

Ubuweb A personal favorite. Seemingly infinite archive of online avant-garde media. I could spend the rest of my life looking at the weirdo artsy fartsy stuff posted here. Not only a huge resource of digital media, but here’s a place where you can upload your own works of genius.

Nina Paley If you ever feel a bit guilty about using and copying free media, check out Nina Paley’s brilliant work. And then buy one of her cool tshirts for my birthday. (I stole copied her her comic above.)


Slow learning about slow learning

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.

How I Came to be Slow

I love learning, but I grew up hating school. So, naturally,  I became a school teacher.  I believed I could change the world by changing education, one class, one lesson, one child at a time.  For over twenty years I taught  in urban public schools. I taught nearly every academic subject, from science to social studies, literature to math.  I taught  every level, preschool through grade 12.  Like any teacher, I made significant impact in the lives of the students under my guidance. My career in schools has been rich and varied.  The only dull moments were rare minutes of rest afforded by regular and relentless administration of state mandated standardized tests.

During my twenty-odd years of classroom experience, I continued to love learning, but  I also endured bureaucratic hurdles of nightmarish proportions.

As educators, we were mandated to teach our children to be quick, clean, and ever more like everyone else. This was all fine and good, but it seemed that much of the real learning that took place in my classroom was subversive.  Passionate inquiry, natural to young human beings, is unpredictable and messy.  Learning meanders. Learning isn’t often easily measured. Learning takes place outside of classroom curriculum. Learning is often slow.

I loved teaching, but I love learning more. I wanted to contribute in the areas of arts and writing. Now what?

I left my modest, but comfortably compensated, tenured position to develop my own personal learning plan.  I examined curricula from what I believed to be the best schools in my chosen field (multidisciplinary fine arts) and I found that the most progressive programs tended to be

·       interdisciplinary

·       based on personalized learning plans initiated by the learner

·       situated in “real world” settings

·       guided by mentors who are practitioners in their fields

All this individualized interdisciplinary, learner-based programming sounded great. I was all ready to sign up, until I realized that

·       these programs are expensive.

·       many programs require the students to locate and recruit the engagement of experts who serve as their mentors and instructors.

·       these mentor/experts earn only a small portion of what I would be paying the institution.

·       in the age of the Internet, information is plentiful, accessible, and cheap. Universities no longer are the sole gate-keepers of knowledge.

·       the academic degree, in and of itself, might have little impact on future career options.

The rebel in me wondered: If the student is doing all the initiation and coordination of their own learning, why go back to school? Do I really need those letters behind my name? Couldn’t I hire my own adjunct faculty and advisors? Isn’t it possible to create my own community of practice dedicated to learning?

My experience in teaching in public schools taught me that no one learns completely on their own, least of all extroverted creative types like myself.  Not only would I have to create my own curriculum, I would have to create my own community of learners who would offer me support, critique, and guidance. I would work with my own self-selected mentor/practitioners. I might even have to create my own alternative to those coveted letters behind my name.

I would develop a model for learning that I could put to work for myself, and then offer what I’ve learned about learning to others.

This learning might be slow. It might even take a lifetime.

NEXT: A brief review of my adventures in Slow Learning over the last five years.

slow teaching from the MomoButoh dance company

I found a mentor for one of my slow learning passions through a simple google search.

I was  looking for other people who were, as I was, writing about  dance as a daily spiritual practice. Again, the  oracle of the internets led me to MomoButoh. Maureeen Freehill’s exceptional blog includes a butoh dance performance she creates daily.

Through the Jetsonian technology of Skype we meet face-to-face. Together we dance, share stories, and we talk about life itself.  Maureen suggests books to read, movements to practice, and challenges me to create my own butoh dance performances in public, to film them with my Flip camera, and to post them on Youtube.  And every two weeks or so I am held accountable for the learning goals I’ve set for myself.

I have to admit that the distance and the technology seem to be cold and strange for an intentionally embodied practice.  But it works.  Check out one of our Skype lessons that clever Momo captured last spring on her Flip and posted on her blog.