I will lern u, k?

That is, of course, not English. I know.

So let’s talk about teaching and learning for a moment, can we?  I teach, as you all know (see www.cameratraining.ca), and many of you are filled with a burning, and healthy, desire to learn photography. So let me talk for a minute about how to learn.

Teaching is a real skill, but so is learning. There are “ok”, good, and better ways to do both. I specialize in this, so I have given it some thought, as regular readers know. Let me share some of my thoughts.

Recent Timmins Workshop (Photo: Michael Willems)

To learn well, you should consider the following ten tips. Most of them are mine – but guess what: some are based on a class I took on “learning to learn”. This class was taught by my old Latin teacher: I was 13, she was 2,000 years old. or 60. To a 13-year old, those are identical. But she had some useful advice.

And guess what: what worked 2,000 years ago still works today. Our brains have not changed.

  1. Find a good teacher. If your teacher is not good, or it doesn’t click – forget it. A good teacher is someone who can communicate,  not just someone who knows the subject. Einstein was a genius, but by all accounts, he was a lousy teacher. Check references.
  2. Listen. The person teacher is taking you somewhere. Just for a minute, forget your own ideas, your own preconceived notions, go with the flow, and listen to where your teacher is taking you. He or she is doing that step by step, in a logical fashion. Listen. Follows the steps. There is time for your questions: if after you listen carefully you still have your question, ask it, but first listen and follow the logic. The teacher has put a lot of thought into this, and you can be assured that if you listen, you will learn. Give the teacher a chance, and listen and follow the logic.
  3. Ask! If you do not understand a step in the teacher’s logic, ask. There are no stupid questions. So many people are too scared to ask – they will not learn ass well as those who do. You are intelligent, You are not stupid: You must ask if it’s not clear. And if you need more time, or you need to hear it again: ASK.
  4. Avoid “BUTBUTBUT” until you have listened. You are intelligent, and you have thought of 12 objections already. The thing is – so has your teacher. What’s more, he has taught this class 100 times before, and he knows you – so he knows what you are going to say or ask about a minute before you do. Really. It’s worth just relaxing and going with the flow. I have often noticed that the people who constantly do the “butbutbut” thing often do not learn as quickly as those who go with the flow. “But…” shows you are thinking, and that you are intelligent, but when taken to extremes, it can get in the way of learning.
  5. Pay attention. Do not spend more than 10% of your time taking notes. Notes are good, writing helps you remember – but if the notes are at the expense of listening: waste of time. Instead, photograph slides (assuming the teacher allows – ask!) and write them into longhand after the class. This “writing” thing is extremely useful.
  6. Understand rather than memorize Give your self a break: a class need not be remembered immediately, It needs to be understood. Big difference. If you understand, then you will remember soon enough – with some practice.
  7. Practice. We have muscle memory. Everything you learn must be practised after the class. it is only after extensive practice that you will memorize.
  8. Read. Read books to complement your class learning. The combination is what really, really allows you to learn new skills in depth.
  9. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repetition of reading, practicing, going over notes: even taking entire classes a second time, is extremely useful. It’s OK to get only 10% of what you are reading. Next time. you’ll get 20%.. and so on.
  10. Take live classes. The reason they work so well is that you can interact – it’s two way communications, not one-way being talked to.
  11. Join others. For instance, you can join all sorts of forums of people who have the same interests and are taking the same classes.
  12. Take a break or ten. I often learn in 5- or 10-minute segments. Anything more, I get bored. So fine, five minutes, then I go do something else, then I get back to it when I feel like it.
  13. Ask for analogies. “Can you give me examples?” is a very powerful question for you to ask, or “can you explain in another way?”. And do not be afraid to ask.
  14. Learn the important stuff. Do not confuse a concept, technique, or technology with “the buttons you press to use it”. When I explain exposure compensation, say, I can see in a class of 20 people, there will be 5 or 6 who spend the next ten minutes on;y trying to find the buttons, and hence not listening. What’s important is “what is it and how does it work”, not “quick! help! what buttons do I press?”. From my experience, this is one of the biggest barriers to learning in older people, who worry about memory and buttons instead of understanding and concepts. Drop that barrier, and listen to what’s important. Once you understand the concept, the buttons are much easier.

If you follow the above advice, and see you and the teacher as a team with the same goal, you will learn quickly and effectively. Really – it works. Give it a go. You will learn at least five times more quickly.

If you have bought my lastest book, the Pro Flash Manual, you will see I spent a lot of time designing the logic. Yes, you design courses and books and even articles. Anyone who buys it, pay attention to that logic. It’s the quickest way to learn.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *