In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. – Eric Hoffer
I love school. I’ve always loved school. When people ask me what my dream life would look like I often respond that I’d love to spend my days studying, learning, experimenting, and creating stuff that I was interested in. You know, like, just because.
And while I think it’s fantastic that we can learn almost anything we want simply by opening our laptops and taking on online class, I don’t do it. I understand why online courses are terrific tools for some people and circumstances, but they aren’t ideal for me and how I like to learn. I like the environment of being in a community of learners IRL.
I also spend way too much time in front of my computer screen as it is.
Over the years as an “adult” and (mostly) for fun I’ve taken classes on: acting, singing, dancing, French, Holistic Health, Ayurveda, yoga, meditation, art history, photography, French Literature…. to name a few.
So you can imagine how excited I was to create an entire program of classes at Holstee in Brooklyn (which we dubbed the Learning Lab) to help people pursue their own dreams. And even better, I got to wrangle some of my favorite people to teach the classes. One of those classes may have been devoted to all things whiskey. Just because.
Our fall “semester” wrapped last week and I’m in process of planning the next round. While pondering the upcoming iteration, I’ve been processing the lessons I learned from our inaugural Learning Labs.
So I thought I’d share some of those lessons with you, in case you’re a fellow life learner or thinking about starting a school of any sort, or you’re just a fan of lists:
It takes courage to be a novice.
When we’re children, we get a lot of credit just for trying new things, be it foods or hobbies or making friends. As an adult it’s harder to be in a room full of peers and admit that a skill or topic is new for us. But taking that first step is necessary and only need happen once! And the truth is, it’s typically never as scary as we imagine it to be. The advantage of learning as an adult? We can serve wine. Liquid courage helps.
In-person community trumps all.
Sure, people want to learn from the expert in front of the room. But we also want to learn from, and get to know, each other. Seeing people connect and exchange contact information at the end of every workshop made me smile. It helps to keep the class intimate in and have the students sit in a U shape instead of rows so they could be within eye contact throughout. Thousands of online followers pale in comparison to a handful of true connections. People want to make friends. Let ‘em.
The best way to teach is often to listen.
My favorite workshops included time to let the students share their own experiences, questions, and lessons learned. When we allow space to listen to each other, we are better able to discover patterns and recognize potential solutions to universal problems. Having time for Q&A and activities for the students to pair up and discuss amongst each another enhances the experience for everyone.
The best way to learn is to teach.
Obtaining knowledge and experience is one thing. Discovering how to share that knowledge and experience in a way that others can learn from is another. What is the real problem you are trying to solve? That answer often becomes much clearer when we help others solve it for themselves. The more opportunities we take to share our knowledge and experience with others, the more of both we’ll receive in return.
Concise is nice.
We don’t try to play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony when we’re first learning to play the piano, nor can we comprehend the entire history of music theory in one lesson. When it comes to teaching (and this includes writing and expression in all forms), restraint is welcomed. Keeping the topic specific and the lessons relevant helps the students absorb more information and leads to more tangible progress.
Things go wrong. Subways run late, printers run out of ink, life happens. The show goes on. Adapt as quickly and graciously as possible to the unexpected, and you’ll be far ahead of the game and more able to focus on what needs to get done. In the words of Ray Bradbury:
Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.
Be all in.
As students, multitasking and sitting on the sidelines is cheating ourselves out of opportunities to grow. As teachers, being fully present means being able to have a better read of the room. The truth is we all split our time on both sides of the proverbial learning coin. And by embracing our moments as teachers and students we can learn, do, be, feel, and share faster and deeper than treating those times as to-dos to be checked off a list.