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Learning More from Experience

Learning in Life:  Originally this page contained only the story of a friend who learned how to learn and became an expert welder.  Now it's generalized, in this introductory overview, to put his story into a broader context of learning from all experience (mentally and/or physically) in a very wide range of situations:

• When you are developing a wide range of solutions for problems — when you use opportunities to "make it better" by designing better strategies, activities, products, and/or theories in any area of life` — you are using a basic process of design that is simple.  The process is just learning from experience to improve your performing and/or learning during everything you do in whole life including time-use decisions about “what to do next” and strategies in everyday life.  Therefore, schools can use design thinking (and Design Process) to build educational bridges — for transfers of learning and transitions of attitudes — between school and life.

• This process of design (which is similar to models for Self-Regulated Learning) can be used for a wide range of cognitive/metacognitive Strategies for Thinking-and-Doing, for mental skills and physical skills.  In fact, the same basic process of learning from experience can be used to pursue all design-objectives and learn from all experience.     { With an "inner game" approach, learning from experience occurs in your personally customized Greatest Seminar on Earth. }

 

Helping Students Learn:  A key aspect of effective teaching is a wise use of guiding activities.  One way to guide is with reflection requests that direct the attention of students to "what can be learned" so they can learn more from their experiences by using metacognitive reflection.  Teachers can use their empathetic understanding to design Strategies for Teaching that include giving students formative feedback.

 

We can learn from ALL experience, from both failure and success: 

Designers rarely “get it right” the first time.  Therefore, partial failures (each with partial success) usually are necessary for a successful process of design.  How?  During iterative Cycles of Design* we want each cycle to "yield results successively closer to a desired result" as we continually learn more from our experiences in each cycle of Generate-and-Evaluate, with productive thinking that combines creative thinking and critical thinking (as in critical-and-creative guided generation) plus knowledge-of-ideas.   /   * This is Stage 1 of a 5-Stage Progression for learning a family of related models that is Design Process.

• My ideas-page about Music Improvisation (to Make Your Own Music by "exploring possibilities with Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm") begins by encouraging you to "Experiment... just Relax and Learn:  You may feel more free to creatively explore different ways of making your own music if you experiment in low-risk situations — when nobody (not you or anyone else) cares about the quality or klunkers — and listen carefully for feedback, to discover what does and doesn't work well, to gain valuable experience.  Instead of worrying about the possibility of mistakes, just relax, listen, and learn."   {increasing creativity by brainstorming and decreasing restrictive assumptions}

• According to jazz artist Ben Sidran, the most important action in musical improvisation is productively graceful recovery from perceived mistakes.

• But... sometimes a "graceful recovery" is not possible, and a mistake would be costly, as in mountain climbing or car driving, so it's important to avoid a mistake.  A useful skill is being able to wisely distinguish between situations when a mistake won't matter much (so take risks, relax, enjoy) and when a mistake would be costly (so do whatever is required to do it correctly, to avoid a mistake).

• For me, one low-risk situation was learning to juggle in 12 years and 45 minutes — with12 years of unproductive waiting, and then (after increases in motivation & confidence) 45 minutes of productive learning.

• You've often heard that "practice makes per    ", but what is the per     word?  Is it "practice makes perfect"? or "practice makes permanent"? or some of both?  You can get closer to "perfect" — so during practice your thinking-and-actions that are becoming more permanent are becoming less imperfect — by learning from experience.  Useful principles for doing this are illustrated by how I didn't learn to ski (and then did) which explains how "I learned to ski... with high-quality practice, not by making mistakes."  Instead of "practicing the old techniques over and over," thus reinforcing the ineffective methods used for my embarassing-and-dangerous morning ski runs, during a glorious afternoon "insights made my practicing effective so I could quickly develop improved skill:  insight → quality practice → skill."  A combination of perseverance (refusing to quit after frustrating morning failures) plus flexibility (in feeling free to try something new) led to the joys of afternoon success;  "perseverance led to opportunities for additional experience, and flexibility allowed the different kinds of new experience that produced insight and then improved skill.

• In high school, my tennis-playing performance improved when, responding to external formative feedback from a coach, I acknowledged my initial error in choosing a backhand grip, and changed it.   Tennis and Other Games describes:  why changing my backhand grip required the re-optimizing of a physical procedural ecology;  analogies between mental, physical, and mental/physical personal ecologies, procedural and conceptual, with factors that are cognitive, affective, and cultural;  educational ecologies, including personal ecologies of students & others, plus institutional ecologies at all levels, and teaching strategies for curriculum & instruction, for effective teaching/learning and for motivating students to supplement their short-term fun with long-term satisfactions.

• By learning from experience, we improve a wide variety of Mental Skills and also Physical Skills that include pronouncing-quality and sound-quality for speaking and singing.

 

Strategies for Improving Mental-and-Physical Skills:  The final 7 skills (music improv, tennis, skiing, juggling, speaking & singing, plus welding below) are physical.  Should we include “how to improve physical skills” when we're thinking about how to solve problems by using a process of design?  Based on personal experience, I say "yes".  From an early age, I've been involved in sports by participating, watching, discussing, coaching, and thinking about sport-science.  I've also been fascinated by the educational process, in schools and outside, of improving the ideas-and-skills we use for solving problems.  All of this inspired me to think about relationships between the mental & physical aspects of skills, and the ways in which most “physical” skills, and some “mental” skills, are mental-and-physical.

 

Performing and/or Learning:  During my friend's process of learning, when (as described below) he was Becoming an Expert Welder, what were the interactions between his performing and learning?  How does an intention to learn — for example, by asking “what can I learn now that will help me in the future?” — affect quality of performing now, in the present?  These questions inspired me to think about the partially-overlapping objectives of trying to increase Learning and/or Performing.     { Then this was expanded to Learning and/or Performing and/or Enjoying by adding a term from Tim Gallwey's Work Triangle in The Inner Game of Work. }

 


 

Becoming an Expert Welder  (by learning from experience)

One of the most powerful master skills is knowing how to learn from experience.  This ability is illustrated by a friend who, in his younger days, had an interesting strategy for work and play.  He worked for awhile at a high-paying job and saved money, then took a vacation and did whatever he wanted;  he could hang out at a coffee shop, read a book, sleep, eat, go for a walk, or travel to faraway places by hopping on a plane or driving away in his car.

Usually employers want workers committed to long-term stability, so why did they tolerate his unusual behavior?  He was reliable, always showed up on time, and gave them a week's notice before departing.  But the main reason for their acceptance was the quality of his work.  He was one of the best welders in Seattle, performing a valuable service that was in high demand, and doing it extremely well.  He could audition for a job, saying “give me a tough welding challenge, and I'll show you how good I am.”  They did, he did, and they hired him.

 

How did he become such a skilled welder?

He had “learned how to learn from experience” by following the wise advice of his teacher:  every time you do a job, do it better than the time before.  He continually improved, and so can you, if you learn from the past and concentrate in the present, being alertly aware of what you are doing (and how this is affecting the quality of your work) so you can do it better now, and also learn from the present to prepare for future improvements.  This is a good way to improve the quality of whatever you do:  ALWAYS aim for quality of thinking-and-action in the present, and SOMETIMES ask "what have I learned in the past that will help me now, and what can I learn now that will help me in the future?"   This is a good strategy for learning (from experience) how to improve welding, or anything else in life that you're motivated to improve.

 

Like the welder, you can learn from both success and failure so you will continually improve.  This principle can help you learn-and-improve in many areas of life, ranging from school exams and ski slopes to the workplace.

You can learn from your mistakes.  This occurs, for example, when your exam is returned and for each wrong answer you ask "Why did I miss this?" and "How can I change-and-improve so the next time I'll get it correct?”

And you can learn from your success.  This is how I learned to ski – by doing it correctly with high-quality practice, not by making mistakes.

More commonly, you learn from both failures and success, as when you self-observe your performance on the job — asking “what are my Actions (mental & physical) and what are the Results?” — and you take time during the work-day (and at the end of a day, week, month, or year) to review your Actions-and-Results.  During these reviews it's important to be totally honest with yourself, fully acknowledging (with no denial) both positive and negative aspects of your own performance.  Your self-honesty will be personally beneficial because it lets you be more accurate in observing, evaluating, and adjusting, so you can achieve your goal(s) for performing and/or learning because you can perform better now by learning from the past and focusing in the present, and/or you are learning in the present so you can perform better in the future.