Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

On Learning

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I am learning a lot of things lately: the Mac, Scrivener, Pilates, Spanish, and how to manage my food intake. The Wife pointed out that between the weight loss and the Pilates I seemed to have internalized that I can learn things well if I simply keep at it, working at it over time. Musicians certainly know this, but many adults forget.

The fact is that most adults—particularly those that succeed in getting control of the timing and content of what they do—focus on those things that they do well. And by working at those things daily, they become extremely good at them—good enough that in the world of business they are often rewarded and become specialists of one sort or another.

Then, in later life, they have totally forgotten what it’s like to learn something: the period of confusion and poor performance as you learn new skills and new knowledge, and the gradual slope of improvement.

The result: they start to think that they can’t learn new things, because the experience of learning strikes them as unpleasant (compared to the secure knowledge and expertise and respect they enjoy in their specialty). So arises the notion that elders can’t learn. They can, but they’re not used to it (yet: I’m actually sort of getting accustomed to the feeling that I am confused but working at it).

Of course, some adults do not have the luxury of choosing what they will be working on. For example, when new technology arrives in the office (a new phone system, for example, or new photocopying equipment, or whatever), the clerical staff is told that they will learn it. Training is offered, attendance is mandatory, and the clerical staff works through it and learns. And, in fact, because that staff is often made to learn new things, they are even accustomed to learning.

The executives can avoid this awkwardness. I still remember the president of a company for which I worked, who got a phone call he wanted to transfer, calling out sort of pitifully for his secretary to come in and please transfer the call for him because he didn’t know how to do it. And he didn’t know how to operate a computer, either—not really. He could hunt and peck at a keyboard (he had no keyboarding skills whatsoever) within a program, but to switch to another program would probably require asking his secretary to help him again. He no longer really knew how to learn.

And that’s why the canard that elders cannot learn arose. Elders can learn fine, if they will study regularly.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2011 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

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