Wednesday, September 9, 2015

New learning curve for the 21st century

Note to readers: No matter how old I am, September transports me back to the classroom - even if it is in my mind. New books. New outfits. New teachers. Best of all, it signals a fresh start.

     Don’t skip to another article. This is not your traditional column hailing September’s arrival with a pep talk on looking forward to a new school year. Keep reading.
     Youngsters are not the only ones on a learning curve. Improving yourself is a lifelong vocation.
     Learning doesn’t stop when high school Algebra and history books have been tossed into the corner shelf, or stored in mom’s attic never to be retrieved until a major ultimatum comes down on your head.
     What’s great about the electronic age is that you don’t have to wait for an instructor or step into a classroom. Talk about instant gratification. Try instant learning.
     Hello, YouTube.
     When in doubt about “how to,” go to YouTube. The short video explanations are so specific you can solve almost any snafu from a clogged sink to avoiding a kayak spill.
     Suppose your new goal is to learn how to use chopsticks sufficiently in preparation for daily meals on a trip to Japan, or even for an authentic experience in a local restaurant. You don’t want to starve, or be the lone duck rudely pulling out a plastic fork from your pocket expecting everything to be on your terms.
      I searched for a video – I got several – on eating with chopsticks, and best of all, I found two for lefties, too. That’s a win-win personally.
     I take to visual learning slowly, and I do blame it on the fact that most instructors have never been able to successfully reverse movements to teach me and I used to become frustrated as a kid. I would shut down and quit trying.
     With YouTube, I repeat the video over and over until I get it figured out. All my sloppy attempts and false starts can be done in the privacy of my own home, and I don’t have to move on until I am ready. It sure takes the pressure off keeping up with everyone else in class who are going forward, and here I am still stuck poking at my slippery noodles ungracefully.
     Since I have more than one video to watch, I can pick and choose until I find an instructor that explains and demonstrates well for me.
     The going is slow and practice makes perfect with chopsticks. I watched a woman at a Wegmans’ restaurant doing a beautiful job of coordinating her chopsticks like her fingers were bonded with them comfortably, and it gave me hope that I will be like her some day soon.
     TED Talks can be listened to around the clock, and most fascinating. You might work your way through a series of 11 lectures on what’s really going on in the world. One that is particularly interesting is what to do when antibiotics don’t work anymore. Another is the surprising way that groups like ISIS stay in power.
     We all laugh and “google” without stopping to think about what we did without it at our fingertips. Considering how much research you do on a daily basis using Google, it shouldn’t surprise you it has become an extension of your arm.
     I have a habit of watching TV with my iPad nearby to “google” more background information – place of birth, for example – for a guest personality on a late night talk show. Why I need such trivia filling my mind, and of what use it will be in the future, I cannot explain since I seriously doubt I will go on Jeopardy any time soon. 
      Great Courses is a source of audio and video lectures on every possible academic subject taught by college professors including retired SUNY Geneseo Professor and LCN columnist, Bill Cook. If you want to know more about opera, Mark Twain or world politics, you’ve found the right venue. Better yet, there are no tests or term papers required.
      Perhaps, the Osher Lifelong Learning institute at RIT suits the bill for learning in a group setting. If you missed out on a college education earlier in life, or you are simply inquisitive and want to keep your mind sharp, at Osher you can invest your time with other likeminded souls.
     Online courses ranging in cost from free to several hundred dollars are options, too. I’ve tried them and discovered by trial and error how to chat with virtual classmates and professors.
      In this day and age, many adults of all ages line the halls for college courses part time to advance both professionally and personally.
     I applaud all of you for your efforts and commitment. It is no easy task balancing work and home life with coursework. I’ve been there and done that stint twice. It is so worth it in the end, though.
     My niece received her nursing degree while managing a medical office thanks to the caring doctor who saw more potential in her and suggested she return to college. Her husband would grunt and groan over the two and a half years it took for “both” of them to get the degree. Now she is a happy emergency department nurse in a city hospital and continues advancing in her field.
     Community colleges are beneficial in that respect. We are fortunate in this area to have Genesee Community College, Monroe Community College and Alfred State nearby with faculty attuned to providing personalized attention.  
      Visual learner. Auditory learner. Hands-on learner. You’re one of them, or perhaps, a combination. 

     Happy learning this fall to one and all. There’s a lot for you to discover.