Some learning comes naturally to everyone, whereas other types of learning require knowledge of how to learn, in order to learn. Once you get to college level learning, you must understand the process which works best for you in trying to learn new things. Waldorf schools pride themselves on teaching not just subjects, but learning techniques. Pine Hill Waldorf School's motto is "A love of learning that lasts a lifetime." The best way for me to describe this is to talk about the process of learning to juggle.
When I first attempted to juggle I picked up three balls and threw them all up and was unable to catch any of them. I could do that a hundred more times with no improvement. So how do you learn to learn new skills? Here are five tips for beginners:
1. Start small
Try starting with one juggling ball and simply tossing it from one hand to another over and over again until you are good at this first step. From there, you have a better chance of moving on to two balls and then three. This is the case with most learning; you do not learn to read Spanish by suddenly opening up a Spanish translation of Harry Potter and winging it! You need to sit down with a few words and definitions and practice them. After that you can start to familiarize yourself with verbs and sentence structure. Then eventually, it is possible to read a book. But you must go step by step.
2. Try again
Persistence and patience are key elements of learning. If you do not learn how to pick up the juggling balls and try again, you will never learn at all. This follows for most learning. If you try to solve a math problem once, after watching someone else run an example, and you fail, you must try again. Learning to learn includes the important element of patience.
3. Make adjustments
If you keep practicing and keep practicing but make no movement forward, you must adjust or risk failing to learn. For example, with juggling, if you keep losing the juggling balls out in front of you and you keep trying again, you will teach yourself how to juggle incorrectly. Practicing a mistake will only create more problems. You must focus on an area which clearly needs improvement and try to adjust. Try to hold the juggling balls back or use a wall to keep them from moving forward. Or if you are learning to write poetry and keep getting back graded notes indicating that you have bad line breaks, focus on changing them instead of repeating the poetry drafts the way you have always done them.
4. Ask for help
Others often have tips or can notice something which you cannot see about your learning. For example, if someone else knows how to juggle, she can assist your learning by acting as your right hand, making you put your own right hand behind your back. If you allow this level of help, you can focus on your weak points (your left or non-dominant hand) and learn to improve. Alternatively, if the helper does not know how to juggle, ask for advice about visible road blocks. Maybe she will tell you it looks like you are throwing too high to control the balls. Then you can adjust based on this help. If you are failing a class; ask for a tutor. There is no shame in asking for help, in fact, it is a normal step in learning.
5. Never stop
There will rarely be a point at which you are done learning. Almost all fields reach out to the distance in terms of potential. If you learn how to juggle three, learn how to do tricks or learn how to juggle up to seven juggling balls. If you can already do that, learn how to juggle while balancing on a unicycle or tight-wire or both! Experts are simply people who learned how to learn and kept at it for longer than most others. If you want to be an Olympic athlete or a neurosurgeon or a famously competent community activist, do not stop learning. Continue to work in small steps, try again, make adjustments, ask for help and know your own learning style.
After accomplishing small tasks like learning to juggle, you may gain confidence in your ability to start from nothing and work up to knowledge. Learning experiences like these should teach you how to learn more and more. At least this is what I have learned (Thank you Jackie Davis!) So try today and keep on trying tomorrow and the next tomorrow!