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My Perspective on the Key to Successful Learning

Hi and thanks for checking out my tutoring blog here at WyzAnt!

If you haven't already, please check out my profile and read my bio. I won't repeat that information here, but I suggest you check it out to get to know me a little and my background. I would like to use this space to share information about my experiences as a tutor, my successes, my challenges, and my overall perspective on learning and tutoring.

To start off with I'd like to say that one of the most important things to realize about learning is that 'repetition' is one of the most important aspects that must be applied if you want to be successful at learning something new. I'm sure it's been said a million times before, but I first heard this when I was listening to a seminar given by Tom Hopkins (the famous Sales trainer). In his seminar he said that 'repetition is the mother of learning' and although I'm sure he was not the originator of that quote, I couldn't agree with him more!

Now, that is not to say that repetition alone will make you a successful learner, but without it, you will surely struggle until you realize its importance and begin using the application of repetition to your advantage.

Look at it this way: when you learn to drive a car, when you start out, you have no experience whatsoever. You start out (ideally) in an empty parking lot, and you go real slow and you (hopefully) have someone there with you who has a bit of experience. They guide you, but ultimately you have to try it for yourself. No matter how much the other person 'explains' how to let out the clutch and 'give it some gas' until you try it for yourself, the whole thing is completely abstract. And you will probably not get it right the first 20 times you try. But the key is eventually (and actually rather quickly) if you continue practicing you eventually get it.

When I started out learning to drive, I was very nervous and I could barely start the car (I learned to drive on a manual) but now that I have done it thousands of times, its like second nature! And that is exactly how learning works. Now, I'm not suggesting you will have to do everything a thousand times before you learn it, but one thing I have noticed is that many students that I meet believe that because they don't get something right away (for example how to factor a quadratic equation), then they must be stupid or bad at math or there is something wrong with them.

My approach is to just have the student observe me performing the task a few times while I explain. Then I have them do it along with me. Then I have them do it by themselves while explaining to me what they are doing and why. What I find is that at the end of this process (which may have to be repeated a few times at each stage), the student has learned the tool or material and can even explain it to their classmates.

I always make sure that the students I work with can actually use the tools they will be tested on. I do not allow my students to rely on memory only, because my perspective is that memory in itself is actually only a comping mechanism. Meaning that if you have to 'memorize' something for a test then that is a sign that you have not actually learned and understood the information. Now in some contexts, memory is appropriate. For example, memorizing a date or a person's name for a history class. But what is fascinating is that even with that type of learning, repetition is still the key to being able to recall the information.

Allow me to use a simple example to illustrate my point. I will ask you a question and say the answer. Ok, ready?

What is 1+1?

Now, we all know that the answer is 2. But did you even have to think about this? I'm willing to bet that the answer came to you pretty automatically.

Now, what about this one.

What is 11 x 12?

For some people of the older generations, the answer to this question might have been automatic. (The answer, by the way, is 132.) But for many children and students that I work with, they either just don't know the answer or they have to think about it for a while or they have to work it out on paper. I believe that the reason for the difference between generations is that if you go back 40-50 years, our education system was such that practice and drill was emphasized heavily (probably because calculators were not as widely available). And calculators are great, but unfortunately, practice, practice, practice is not being emphasized. Ironically, practice is not being practiced as much in school as it once was. So children are going through school without even realizing that practice is important.

Now, I'm not going to go on a tirade about modern, consumer, fast-food, immediate satisfaction culture (at least not in this post, LOL), but the point is that practice actually does make perfect (or darn close). I mean, would Yo-Yo Ma (the famous cellist) be able to play the cello the way he does if he hadn't practiced?

So, learning in school is the same way. Obviously, not everyone is training to be a master cellist, but our children should be training to be masters of their own destiny, and without proper preparation through practice and adequate instruction, then surely our children and future generations to come will be left without the skills to participate fully in society. And if we aren't pushing ourselves to ensure that our children develop these skills then we have to really look at who we are and whether we would be willing to trade places with our children and enter a rapidly growing, fast-paced information society where practical skills and the ability to process/apply information and to make common sense decisions are in ever-increasing demand and unfortunately (as we are beginning to see, a la the current bank-lending crisis) is in short supply. We may not be able to fix the world the way we would like it before handing the reigns over to our children, but the very least we can do is prepare them with the tools to handle the challenges that will surely be facing them in the near future. Our children are our legacy, and we should keep this in mind when considering our approach to educating them.

I have touched on a number of things in the post, the main thing being the point that Repetition (practice) is one of the keys to successful learning and developing of practical skills. In posts to come, I will share my perspective on how we can address with need as well as the other points that we must consider if we truly want our children to be successful and responsible adults.

Thanks for reading and be sure to visit often to learn more about my perspective on learning and tutoring!