Buddy Evans, The Student
I realize many folks that know me, only know me as an instructor. They never see me as a student, when in all actuality; I spend the majority of my life, like yourself, in the student mode. My passion for instructing is rooted by my overwhelming thirst for knowledge. And the gateway for obtaining more knowledge is through learning.
There are an array of different surveys and statistics that speak to the various retention statistics as to how much information we actually retain when acquiring knowledge. I’m not going into all of that, but when you are first exposed to how low the retention figures and statistics are, it can be somewhat shocking and disheartening for an individual sincerely thirsty for knowledge.
As a result of these low retention figures, I started taking a serious look at what I could do to become a better student so I could maximize the volume of knowledge I gained in the most efficient manner possible. Because when you are an instructor, gaining the knowledge is only the first step, maybe not always the easiest step, but certainly the first step.
At about the same time of being introduced to retention statistics, I had a student of mine that homeschooled his children. I was intrigued anyone would willingly take on such a tremendous responsibility, and my curiosity of how one would approach this daunting task was peaking. The guy said it is actually quite simple, you teach your children how to learn. Conversely, I invested a substantial amount of time and energy in learning how to learn. This effort branched out into a side study devoted to memory techniques.
At the end of the day, learning is not as easy as one might think it is, regardless of where you affix your intellectual capability. One of the biggest things that helps me to learn is the knowledge and appreciation learning is not easy. This drives my preparation to get mentally and physically positioned and prepared to learn. Accepting the fact that learning is not easy also heightens my awareness of my ability to maintain focus, as well as, my attention span.
The majority of my learning is in a self-taught environment. I have found establishing a defined learning schedule really helps me and my family a lot. I let everyone in the house know when I am going into the “Study” mode. They are granted full access up to that point, but once I enter the “Study” mode, unless the house in on fire, they have learned through past experiences, its best to leave me alone. This follows suit with that of a formal classroom environment. Not only does it allow me the time to prepare for learning, but it lets my family know because I am serious about learning, I am simply not available during that time frame.
There are a fair amount of physical things we can do to enhance the learning experience. Obviously, being rested is huge. If you’re tired, fatigued, fighting a hangover, it’s not going to happen. Get your fluids; there are some very interesting studies that prove being properly hydrated drastically enhances one’s ability to process information, especially new information. Eat light during class or study time; a big meal is more conducive to a nap instead of acute focus and retention. Dress comfortably, but clean up. Attempting to study in your pajamas is creating physiological warfare, and in more cases than not, the pajamas will win.
We are all a product of our environment, and the environment associated with learning plays a major role in our ability to learn. A quiet, well lit room with plenty of desk space to scatter things out is the way to go. When I go into the learning mode I am not in the organized, neat, tidy mode. On a personal basis, I have found being tied to a desk is counterproductive. I move around, I move around a lot, in fact, I may even go for a short walk. Moving around accomplishes several things: It keeps blood flow moving so I don’t get bored and tired. Moving both the right and left side of your body energizes both sides of your brain which greatly enhances the learning experience.
Because I am such a terrible speller, and note taker, I use a small digital recorder when not at my home office. My home office is set up with a full time microphone on a stand and it is connected to Dragon Naturally Speaking software if I need to take physical notes. You talk, and Dragon types it. I also use a free piece of recording software called Audacity that simply records my voice. You might be amazed how much faster and more accurate you are at talking as compared to note taking. Unless I am in a class that strictly prohibits recordings, I don’t even ask the instructor, I just pull out my tiny recorder and turn it on. I am also big on pictures. I may take a picture of the blackboard, or a screenshot for later reference. If in a formal classroom, when the instructors uses something like PowerPoint, I always have a thumb drive with plenty of open space to copy anything and everything he or she will let me have. Don’t overlook the value of technology to enhance and enrich the learning experience.
I mentioned earlier that I move around. When I am reading, I read aloud and walk. I realize this probably sounds crazy, but in my quest for maximum efficiency when engaged in the learning process, this works best for me and here’s why. Reading is entirely to relaxing to me, and coupled with the fact my eyes get fatigued and tired, it’s not long before I leave the learning mode, and enter the “I could use a Nap” mode. Walking keeps blood flowing, and I am also moving both the right and left side of my body which electrifies both sides of the brain. Reading out loud energizes sight, speech, and listening and this radically enhances retention as compared to quietly reading.
Of all the physical things we can do to get prepared for learning, I honestly think the biggest thing we can do to enhance the learning experience is developing the sincere desire to learn. If someone was to ask me in a social setting about my desire to learn, I would probably tell them “I really enjoy learning”. But when I am actually getting prepared to learn it becomes much more serious, I move into the “I have to learn” mode. I don’t take knowledge for granted. I see knowledge as an asset, a resource, a special tool that can be used over and over again. Taking learning seriously is the fuel to help me to accomplish all the various things discussed earlier in this article.
And last but not least, application reinforcement. Think about what you have just learned, and find ways and means to apply this knowledge. If we don’t apply this newly gained knowledge, our retention fades fast.
If you picked up some things that might improve your efficiency while engaged in learning, that’s great. And for all of you that have only seen me in the instructor role, let me assure you, Buddy Evans is first and foremost, a very humble student.