An Autodidact is Social

Seems like a contradiction in terms, but autodidacts are social; we have to be. When I learn from the web, I access websites, support people, books, friends, and the wonderfully generous denizens of the web. I’ve spent much time over the last couple of weeks trying to get on top of creating the website I want, one that looks competent and meaningful. (I believe, as I repeatedly say, that we start reading before we decode a single word. We get an impression of the page or screen and our attitude hinders or helps us understand what is in front of us. So I want a site that appears knowledgeable.) To create the site I want I have,

  • searched for information on Google, using different queries;
  • complained on Twitter (and elicited help);
  • phoned a generous web-friend and accepted his help;
  • bought and read parts of books;
  • downloaded and read parts of pdfs;
  • talked to knowledgeable friends;
  • tried out all kinds of WSIWYG solutions, both offered by friends and found through Google;
  • finally circled around to deciding on either (decisions are hard for me ;-> ) KompoZer or both of which I’ve been learning piecemeal over a number of years;
  • settled in to create the site I want on my domain;
  • read up on FTP through Google and on my domain host’s Support pages;
  • sorted out, with phone help from my domain host’s Support, NetFirms, how to use FileZilla;
  • re-installed the use of WordPress, which I had deleted in a fit of frustration and pique, with the help of NetFirm’s phone Support;
  • choose a free wp template, Titan, (brother of the theme I’m using in this, my blog) and decided I would need their Support, and to pay for it because they have to make a living;
  • decided to follow Jestro on Twitter for information and quick requests for support;
  • Spent all day trying to follow a tutorial on how to access Titan’s CSS, gave up and added my problem to the Jestro Pro forum and went to supper. (I had done similar CSS work with help from Dave Ferguson on my blog so I knew it was possible.);
  • Got back from supper to find the answer already on the Jestro Support Forum (and an explanation that the tutorial could have been clearer);
  • made some changes I feel good about, but also discovered that my learning will be continuing! ;->

All of those were interactions with people or the communications created and left by people. Even autodidacts are, by necessity, social learners.

I will be accepting the help of other generous people, directly and indirectly, but there are two more important observations I want to make:

  • As a teacher, I understand why students get cranky and worse when they are frustrated because they are just not “getting” something they want to learn. It makes me (and I suspect them) feel unintelligent and inadequate, and I, (and I’m sure them) get upset with myself and anyone else I can blame. It must be even more so for those who learn differently than our schools teach. That is why I am revealing my own struggles; learning is only easy when you are, by your own nature, good at learning in certain areas. We ought to be compassionate for our own and others’ struggles to learn in the areas where we don’t have the natural velcro for.
  • It is hard to ask for help, even help you have paid for, but you must in order to keep on keeping on (as Gladys Knight advised)! I don’t know if it’s a societally developed fear of loss of face or an inherent fear of showing weakness, but I find it difficult to ask for help. I think others do too.

So that’s my current learning struggle, which I will continue on with, after I get some work that I’m good at 🙂 done.

6 thoughts on “An Autodidact is Social

  1. I like your new format.

    There are times when I yell at my computer, “how can you be so dumb?” This might be the computer, myself, or a student.

    I then force myself to take a step back and really look at the situation, trying to distance myself from the emotion that the problem presents. One advantage to teaching on line is I can do this process without my students ever seeing my impatience with their problem or inability to understand me. I am very careful to wait before I reply and to make sure that I have questions that will address their frustration, but at the same time help me to “get into their head” as to the way they are thinking (which is often different than my own thought processes).

    1. Thanks – it was a learning experience getting it there.

      I used to (jokingly) teach my students with laptops a chant: “Don’t throw the computer; it’s worth a lot of money! Don’t throw the computer; it’s worth a lot of money!…) After saying it 10 times, the urge to throw it passes ;->

  2. I loved this description of your learning process – it so clearly echoes my own. However, this is not learning that happens in the classroom. How can we move beyond expecting the learner to interact with the book, the teacher and their own knowledge and help them begin to cultivate and use a network similar to the one you have available to you? Maybe part of some student’s frustration comes from feeling limited by their learning tools and teachers.

    1. The trick, in my (humble) opinion, is to let the students chose their own project that will include them having to use whatever is to be taught, then structuring the class so they will help each other. You help them as they all struggle and give each other feedback, help and encouragement; ownership of their projects is central.

  3. Wonderful article!

    I always considered myself asocial, but I have come to realize this is not true- I started teaching College courses close to a decade ago- I was hired after one semester of taking classes by the dept chairman, and when i get in front of a class, or even an individual student- the barriers come down.

    I think the social segregation is necessarily self imposed- my learning style is different- slower (in some ways) than most, hence the desire to take it at my own pace. (In the long term, say over a semester or a few years, I usually am WAY ahead of my peers in terms of learning and being able to apply the recent learnings)

    The hardest part of self learning, is developing the discipline to follow though- and learn the aspects that are not terribly interesting, but may be quite necessary. It’s this mentality that finally launched me from “guy who can do things better than most” to “guy who gets paid like a top player and is constantly recruited”.

    It was actually a real simply seed that caused this- reading through my spouse’s textbook on teaching math (one of 3 degrees), there was a small portion dedicated to interpreting student’s mistakes. it was sort of like the little puzzles in an IQ test. The more your work at it the better you get. i practiced this and made it something to be aware of: when students make mistakes- try to see how they reached the undesired conclusion. It takes effort, and patience, but there are many ways of overcoming this.

    Finding an aspect that is interesting to the students is a challenge- but i usually turn this around, and get the students to challenge themselves on ways to find it interesting.

    IMHO- 3 Golden tips:
    1. Letting students see you make mistakes is important- and how you recover and correct the mistakes- it sets an incredible example for them to follow.
    2. Patience while they backtrack and figure out what they are missing is hard, but my best advice is that forcing yourself to be patient in this is its own reward, and is self reinforcing.
    3. Regular reinforcement that a student should NEVER give up. Sometimes you fail, sometimes your really tank. But get back up, realize the best place in the world to make a mistake or fail is while in school, and then go do it better than before.

    Out of over 1000 adjunct faculty, i am tied with about 10 others in a 100% student survey approval, so I think these 3 things are pretty apt.

    Finally, for any autodidact, the completion of the process is to become a teacher in whatever manner possible. I was lucky, I was ‘discovered’, but before that- I was teaching various people: co-workers, clients, friends, family. Teaching makes you re-learn your subject in ways you can’t understand until you do it. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done, for myself, my family, my employers and clients, and the community in general.


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