I’ve been thinking lately about how we learn. I’ve gotten quite a few books recently, mostly because I like to read way more than I like to watch TV. But reading through a lot of them has gotten me thinking about how different forms of media and learning material are used by different people. I don’t know much about the brain, but I am aware that we only use a very small part of its capability. I do know that while I absolutely love to read, I seem to learn some things much easier if I can actually see them done.
One of my newest undertakings is magic. I’m no David Copperfield or Lance Burton, but I like being able to do simple little tricks for my kids and their friends just to have some fun. But what I’ve found is that for me, reading about how to do a particular sleight or illusion can be very confusing. The simplest of tricks seem to be really complicated when they are written out in a book. However, actually seeing the sleight explained by someone who is practiced in the effect all of a sudden makes it much clearer to me. It makes my practice time that much more focussed and productive instead of clumsy and confused.
This got me wondering, is it me, or is it just that this particular skill is not easily taught in print? I then began to wonder the same thing about woodworking. I have always been able to easily learn from the woodworking books I’ve read. But now I wonder is that because I learned the fundamentals long ago and have a firm understanding of the basic principles, or is it just because I have some gift for easily understanding woodworking? I’ve seen folks who struggle with their woodworking the way I struggle with these sleights. Is it them, or is it the form of media (i.e. the books) making the skills seem more complicated than they really are, just like with the sleights for me?
I have always believed that most people could learn to do just about anything. Obviously we can’t all become masters of everything, and there are always some people who are simply gifted in their particular field who’s skills simply won’t be equalled (e.g. Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong, just to name a few). But I do think most of us can learn pretty much whatever we want and do a passable job at it with practice. To me it’s a matter of learning proper technique and practicing the skill.
I know that that this should be the case with magic sleights, but still, I seem to struggle with what are supposed to be some fairly simple sleights while there are pre-teen children that can do them almost flawlessly and leave you wondering what just happened. So I wonder, are some folks just gifted with a natural ability to do this stuff? Conversley, are some people just cursed not to be able to get it regardless of the amount of instruction they receive? Whether it’s woodworking, or playing a musical instrument, or performing magic, do these skills require nothing more than a lot of practice, or do they require some amount of natural ability in order to do them well? Are all of these skills that can be learned by absolutely anyone with the right instruction and practice? Or are there simply some things that we can do and some things that we just can’t grasp?
I’m interested in your thoughts, and how you feel you learn best. Are you a book person who can easily grasp a concept in print and put it to work (I thought I was pretty good at this until I started to try and learn some magic sleights), or are you more visual and need to see something explained in person (or in a video) in order for it to make any sense? I’m particularly interested in how you feel about this in regards to your woodworking. If you could have only one form of media for your self study of woodworking to take you from day 1 apprentice to experienced journeyman, would you prefer it in book or video form (I’m not including face-to-face here)?
Let me know your thoughts.