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Can we learn how to learn?



My laptop raised so that I can stand at my desk

Standing at my laptop. A trapped nerve requires it. An old school lectern from a flea market and a book stand do the job. This, or a stool on the kitchen table perhaps?

With apologies to Will with whom I had quite a debate, ongoing as we were sailing the Atlantic together and we were ‘buddied’ up to do between seven and ten hours on the helm in each 24 hours. Some of our antics are covered in the team blog Ximera or my ‘cooking across the Atlantic blog’ Ximera cooks.

Will was adamant that his older brother, my mate, Robbie, ‘learnt how to learn’ during his A’Levels that explains his academic and career success. I argued that, like my father, and few others I know, Robbie has the mindset, not just a ‘photographic’ memory, but an ability to focus and shut out all distractions – this delivers results. I argued that learning ‘methods’ or ‘tricks’ to learn were piffle compared to what genetically we have been given. I argued that all you needed to succeed in a subject as a passion for it. After all, he is now more than capable of being skipper on a yacht crossing the Atlantic. He learns from doing and gives it time. He reads what he wants and needs, rather that what he has to read. And he writes with wit and intelligence.

And then, as I have antennae out for these things, I heard of another online course (free, massive and open and known to academics as a MOOC) on learning.

I now rather think that all of us, indeed all sixth form, college and university students, ought to ‘Learn how to learn’.

You’d imagine having spent long enough studying education to have an OU MA in Open and Distance Education that I’d know something about the learning process, yet over and over again I will read something different or watch something I’ve not done before as the picture has never been either clear or stable.

And then along comes this free online course (MOOC if you will) from Coursera.

‘Learning how to learn’

It’s in week two. I feel as if several significant and disjointed ideas, some I believe I had come to independently, are now being drawn together. I know The OU have, or try to do this somewhere, possibly in Open Learn and historically in a book first published in the 1990s.

‘Learning how to learn’ is if anything reassuring and encouraging to us all. I see too, now that I’m in my 50s, that a few of my old school friends have the title ‘Professor’ in front of their name, or QC at the end of it. It may have taken them 25 years or more to get there, but it was gradual and incremental and with no exceptions I have to reflect ‘who would have believed it’.


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