Alternate ways of learning

Gilbert posted a comment to a previous post of mine, but it’s worth its own post, as many people don’t track all the comments [merci, Gilbert] :

Here is a story for those who are interested in alternate ways of learning.

After reading some Marshal McLuhan in the mid 70s I decided to change the way I was learning.

Mcluhan was saying that electronic communications media would restore to Western civilizations many features expressed by oral cultures. In oral cultures you learn as an apprentice under a master and learning is a lifelong process. Being young (17) and naive I thought that this would happen in less than 10 years so I decided to change the way I was learning and thinking to make me ready for this new world. Learn orally under the masters.

During this period I remember reading some Plato and a book called the Art of Memory. This was pre-Western world stuff. I started to see that there were other ways of learning. This led me to read books on old East Indian training methods for musicians and all kinds of different approaches in various cultures. One of the last books I read was from Bacon. In a world made up mostly of books I decided to change the way I made use of books for learning. Here are things I did to make me ready for this print to oral change.

1. I stopped taking notes in the university classroom. Simply decided that I should remember what was being said.

2.  Started to train in old memory and visualization techniques from the Greek period.

3.  Instead of reading modern books I tried to read only original works. I read DesCartes, became a mathematician by reading Newton including hand written manuscripts. Learned my industrial engineering skills by reading original works of Taylor, Gilbreth, etc.

4. I stopped reading books about books. I threw away all my “Understanding McLuhan” and meditated on the Medium is the Message. Reading originals is very close to learning the oral way. I could hear these people talking to me.

4.  Decided to play blindfolded games instead of visual. I remember playing several chess games simultaneously based on oral communication only. Played blindfolded bingo,tic tac toe, card games too. I was warned that if I screamed bingo when it wasn’t bingo that some old lady would beat me up. Later on I used to write computer programs orally by having someone else type them and myself not being allowed to look at the code.

5. Totally neglected my university classes for many years to concentrate on mental training techniques. Went through concentration training, visualisation training, visual thinking training, lateral thinking, synectics, observation training, yoga, shorthand, logical thinking, illogical thinking, and many others.

6.  I decided that I would learn how to play classical guitar. I added the rule that I should never take a lesson, not ever even look at someones fingers as they played. The learning would have to come from the soul or simply from playing pieces. By that time I was into so much mental training that sight reading was mmediate. Took me about 2 minutes to figure out what the symbols meant. I started playing fifteenth century pieces and worked my way to about 1920. Much of the learning was simply done by hitting notes and simply listening. I did use sheet music to learn. At the age of forty I decided to use the fiddle and did so without lessons and did not allow myself to look at any sheet music. Listen and learn or just invent pieces.

7.  After a few years I kind a missed reading the newspaper and magazines so I went to the library and read the news of one hundred years ago and all their copies of Scientific American preceding 1970. Sure gave me a different understanding of politics and propaganda.

8.  I listened to a lot of radio.

During this period I was still reading but only original works. And then I discovered Buckminster Fuller….

I actually decided to study his mathematical work (Synergetics) and forced myself to think in terms of tetragons. Buckminster Fuller’s story of how he relived the history of tool making led me to reinvent many things around me. (Things like inventing my own alphabet and a different arithmetic than what other people used. Gave up on inventing a oral language because my friends were ready to have me interned.) I never read books about Fuller written by other people but I did meet someone who had met him and drank a lot of beer with the guy.

Pretty weird stuff! Did give me an insight into non-curriculum driven learning and also in some McLuanistic thinking.

So for those interested in alternate ways of learning. Give it a try. Take a new subject and try to learn it in a completely different way.

Do it like a caveman would if it suits your personality. It will give you a different perspective about learning.

PS. Learning from blogs is contrary to my learning style because it somewhat similar to reading books about books. The Blog process itself however is reflective and fits in well with this philosophy. Now that I am old it is also entertaining. I never really learned how to watch TV yet. I find playing with the remote quite interesting. Also find watching without sound quite interesting.

4 Responses to “Alternate ways of learning”

  1. Stephen Downes

    What’s interesting is that his resulting learning will not in any particular way be better, but it will be different. And therein will lie its advantage.

    For myself, I became convinced of the impact of television as a learning medium when I discovered that there were distinct commonalities of thought I shared only with people who were, for some significant period in their lives, television-free. Our learning became, in a similar way, different.

  2. Gilbert

    Glad that Stephen brings up the diversity perpective. Discussions about diversity and how to let it do its normal thing are probably more useful than discussions about curriculum and other physical concepts.

    Diversity seems to be fundamental to any ecosystem. Diversity like learning happens no matter what. What is important with diversity is to recognize its value early and not to mess around too much with the processes that causes it. Let nature do its thing.

    In the learning world diversity does not necessarily require that we learn different things. For example if we take a different path to get to the same results we will have diversity.



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