The curse of the course

It’s widely said that you learn through doing.  All the handy skills and tricks you have, at home or at the office, were either self-discovered through experience, or through carefully observing other people, the inadvertant teachers all around us.  But when it comes to adults learning something new, things can get all serious suddenly, and the need is often felt to give up on our tried and tested practical ability, and surrender to academia.  Why?

Many people (especially training companies) would have you believe you should turn to education to further yourself or increase your employability or even your “value”.  If you want to do something that requires a professional qualification, then sadly there’s no choice.  But it’s easy for people to forget what they can learn themselves, and what real life can still teach them.

There is comfort in choosing an institutionally-approved way of growing yourself.  However, the drawback is that usually someone is setting your boundaries for you, and instilling their own lessons for you to memorise.

I have seen this thinking demonstrated in the hobby of photography.  It’s complicated, right?  And it’s shameful to take crap photos, especially with that clever camera.  Best to enrol on a course in order to get the validation to start a photography hobby, because that’s the only way to get good.  Better not waste time taking photos before the course without having The Knowledge, but now after the course perhaps there’s reluctance to take any because there’s an intimidating overload.

The fun can be easily killed, the camera easily resented.  There seems no be no better way of turning a positive into a negative than distorting genuine inquisitiveness by going on a course.  Why not just go out and get snapping?  Perhaps it’s because there’s no quick-fix there, no obviously productive leap in ability.  That’s not what playing gives you.

Another example.  Of late, my daughter has shown an appetite for climbing everything in sight, so I thought it would be great to help her explore that interest.  My first thought: take her to a weekend course on a climbing wall.  The natural thing to do.  It took me the writing of this blog post to realise what I was doing there, and that we were on the road to missing out on a fantastic experience.  Why don’t we simply go climbing together?  No exposure to another bout of instruction, just a dad and a daughter hopping on a wall, as equals, and discovering how fun and exhilerating it is.  Maybe then she stands a chance of teaching herself, and cultivating a love for it.

Experience slaps you awake.  Lectures send you to sleep.  Personal experience means discovering new things.  Courses are a direct route to conformity, adopting someone else’s experience and suppressing your natural inquisitiveness.  So the choice is to be slapped or to be sapped.

There are nice qualifications to be found in courses, but not so much fun and much less real learning.


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