Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where are you going?

Road to somewhere
Last year and a bit, I'm on my way to Grahamstown, South Africa.

We stopped to take this picture to admire the landscape- a vastness and rich fauna quite resplendent. But it was the sign that caught my attention. Clear, sizable and unambiguous.

When we're driving we take this for granted, but the idea of signs is a human graphical invention designed to communicate quickly to drivers.

In life, or even studentdom (the life of students) where things can be fuzzy signing is almost paramount. But here I'm not talking literal signs, as important as they are, but structural mental ones that help in the learning process.

The task you're about to undertake requires a plan, but you can't implement the plan if you don't have an idea. And where does the idea come from - a concept, many concepts.

In the absence of such deductive or inductive thinking the task ahead seems amorphous, shapeless, with no beginning or an end.

Structure sits at the loci of the idea and planning ahead. Without a structure there is no meaning, rational way forward. If you're in the learning business this either sounds tautological or a bit strange. Yet these methods lead to the path of success.  There are very few geniuses in the world e.g.  Jobs, Turin, Einstein etc aside.  You get my point.

So processes becoming hugely important, and as boring as they are, we need to adhere to their forms to start with, at the point where we're fledgling, trying to find our feet, learning new ways.

Only after, unless that is you consider yourself an artist freed from the matrix of convention, can we begin to play with form, to undo the rules, to forgo convention.

Thus learning or the business of learning is not so much about which literature you're reading or what mathematical equation in trigonometry works, how Marxism is not about Karl Marx, or how to produce good television.

It's not about the subject in front of you per se, but how you understand the process of learning.

Here's a few tips:

1. Organise your work to sit in compartments and  approach work in a modular fashion i.e.  a piecemeal mode.  For instance in writing an essay, the concept-idea-planning-writing phase - all have different challenges and should be treated as such in their level of complication.

2. Following the idea, plan how you'll go about the task which will provide structure.  The structure then needs examining as part too as a "wisdom of crowd" approach.

3.  Talk about what you're doing. The process of talking, even to yourself,  provides a powerful link between the conscious and subconscious.  You'll find flaws you never thought existed.

4. When you've finished each task, give yourself room to reflect further. Reflection requires a time lag, between finishing the job and returning. I may complete this post in a couple of minutes, but I'll need to come back to it again at some point to iron out stray thoughts and the rest.

5. Look for sign posts from other people. How do the successful ones get by their work. Yesterday my Dean of Phd programme mentioned a Read-Write methodology, she had seen me undertake. It sounds strange, because I have always done that, but she was highlighting the idea that when you're told new things, given a lecture, reading up on it and then writing creates a strong link with the idea.

The ideas of others is built upon by your binge reading and then accentuated by your writing it.

6. Then see if you can engage with someone knowledgable of the subject you have just picked up.

7. And then construct your own structural approach how you would re-approach the task ahead. In effect this is systems and their analysis at a granular level.

8. Pass it on! :)

9. Yep I came back to this post to change a few things- reflection!