Learning to Learn – An Important Skill for Equine Professionals

Learning to learn applies to every phase of life.

Recently I became aware, through an article titled “Divided Attention” by David Glenn published February 28, 2010, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, that many students today are having greater difficulty learning and applying what they’re being taught due to inattention and the illusion of competence that comes from their being “multi-taskers.” (It has always been a challenge for teachers to get and keep a student’s attention, but it seems that today there are even more things to distract students.)

A study by Dr. Clifford Nass of Stanford University supports this theory. Dr. Nass found that distracted multi-taskers believe they have learned and absorbed more than they actually have. As a result, multi-taskers typically perform worse on cognitive and memory tasks than do students who focus on a single task.

Students learn better and retain more when they are not distracted by electronic devices, such as cell phones, I-pods and laptop computers. Although we provide free wireless internet for our students at Butler Professional Farrier School, we do not allow them to use the computer or text on cell phones during lecture and discussion time.

We have found that vocabulary memorization, study with intent to answer questions, and accurate drawing of spatial concepts help students absorb and retain more material than simply reading and discussion alone because it helps them stay focused.

Learning to learn requires at least seven things:

First, have a desire to learn. Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, has said, “Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.” An inquisitive mind can be developed, but only if one wants to. How bad do you want to learn?

Many of life’s experiences can suppress a desire to learn. Sometimes it’s people who have a strong influence on you, such as parents, school teachers, childhood friends, mentors, peers, and other close associates. Drug use, especially marijuana, also can kill the desire to learn. Yet, ultimately, you are the one who chooses your attitude toward learning. You are in control of your future, your destiny.

Second, accept personal responsibility for your own learning. You must accept the responsibility for finding the answers yourself. We each have a varying capacity to think and to learn. How we use that ability determines our success in life. It is a measure of our belief in ourselves, the questions that we ask, and the power of the answers for us and those answers we can give to our clients in the future. Don’t expect your teachers to spoon feed you — their role is to provide the opportunity for you to learn.

Third, search all available sources for the answers. Search out the answers that others have already discovered. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Do your homework! In science, it is called “The Review of Literature.” Try to understand why others came up with the answers they did. Spend as much or more time reading as you do using Google or other electronic search tools. Just having the materials is not enough. You must know what is in the book or article and how to apply it. When solving a problem, start where others have left off.

Fourth, think about the question/problem all the time. Isaac Newton said he discovered the law of gravity by thinking about it all the time. Eventually the answer will come to you. It may be when you least expect it. This is the way our subconscious mind works. The more experience you have the easier it becomes to compare the current problem to a similar one from the past.

Fifth, experiment and prove the answer/solution that comes to you. Don’t adopt the idea until it has been tested by your own experience. Try it enough times so you are confident it will give consistent results. Also, others may try to steal or crush your ideas if you share them too soon.

Sixth, look at the answer/solution from several perspectives. Look at it up close, then look at it in the context of the overall expanse. This takes time and requires a commitment to learning. Don’t become obsessed with an idea by itself. If you do, you will look only at things which justify or prove your tentative conclusions. Rather, try to see how it fits into the big picture. For example, at Butler Professional Farrier School we teach horseshoeing, not just foot shoeing.

Seventh, try to group concepts in units of seven or less. Dr. George Miller of Harvard University, as far back as 1956, suggested that humans’ working-memory-capacity – that is, their ability to juggle facts and perform mental operations – is limited to no more than seven things at a time. It is less if a person is distracted by multi-tasking. Fending off distraction and focusing your attention is critical to learning.

Learning to learn is an important activity. You must desire to do the hard things. It can make the difference as to success or failure in life. Dr. Nass of Stanford worries that, “Media multi-tasking might actually be destroying students’ capacity for reasoning.” Students often choose to do the easy rather than the hard things.

You will find it easier to learn new knowledge and skill, and therefore excel at your craft, if you incorporate these suggestions into your learning activities.

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