How could I learn any other way?

September 23, 2009 – 2:38 am

I appear to have had a grand total of two “off” days this month so far. By which I mean “unscheduled days wherein I acted like a normal human being instead of being ON ALL THE TIME.” This appears to be approximately the right ratio. I think I’ll get one more of those days this month (next Wednesday) and look forward to that day with Great Gusto – I will work for 8 hours and then STOP WORKING and go do something relaxing somewhere.

After reading The Talent Code, I wonder how my ADHD has affected the way I learn and the intensity with which I attack things. Maybe one way of describing ADHD is that you need what the book calls “deep learning” experiences – for me, it’s not just that “deep learning” is a better way to learn, it’s the only way I can learn. Anything with less than 110% engagement makes my mind wander and latch onto the nearest shiny object and then drive ridiculously hard on that because I have to drive ridiculously hard on something. It’s like I’ve got three settings: MUSTFINDTARGET-WILDFRANTICSEARCH!!!, TARGETACQUIRED-GOGOGO!!! and “error 404 consciousness not found please come back in 4.5 hours.” I’m either working or I’m crashing. And the few moments I’m able to be quiet and relax without itching to jump back into something are so rare that I’m surprised whenever they happen (and usually write them down).

I’m always learning a ridiculous amount about something. Whether it’s the thing I’m “supposed” to be learning about is another matter, though I’m fortunate that the two categories have overlapped enough in the past to enable me to do things like (barely) graduate from college and do the work I love. As the opportunities I’m able to access get cooler and more challenging, I need to work on managing my capacity so I’m able to do them – the old combo of Time Management By Force Of Sheer Will and Having More Time To Not Quite Manage Because I Don’t Sleep isn’t going to carry me much further.

From Felder’s model: I know that I’m a global learner and a visual one, and tend towards the reflective and intuitive. I think that, after 2 days, I’ve found a way to settle into learning RHEL – now I have 2 days to test out my hypothesis, and hope I’ve figured it out fast enough to learn fast enough to pass the exam on Friday. If I do, I’ll consider it a total bonus – I’m here for the learnin’ and not the piece of paper, though from checking out the course materials and probing about expectations I’m coming to the conclusion that yes, it’s a useful scaffolding and evaluation framework for a nicely pragmatic set of things to learn, and well worth weighing myself against as a means of feedback and tracking.

Tomorrow, if my hypothesis pans out, I will sit down and try to articulate the way I think I learn best. In brief, for work-on-your-own classes where the focus is on mastering a set body of material that’s new to you…

  • Know how you want to evaluate yourself; have (and continuously make) little deliverables, experiments, and goals along the way, and hit ‘em.
  • Have a syllabus, and use it as a point of departure, like playing from a fakebook. Start here, play the head, and then start riffing on the material.
  • Be part of a class, with an instructor and other learners present; use them as a pacesetter to make sure your improvisations are reasonably on-track and keeping pace with where you want them to be, and as a reminder to focus, and as a source of input for your learning improvisations. (Again, this is mostly only relevant to work-on-your-own classes where the focus is on mastering a set body of material; team projects, classes on things you already kinda know, and you-decide-what-you-are-going-to-learn studies are different.)
  • Play with what interests you – hit hard, go deep, and poke at boundaries (this is why I enjoyed my brief stint in QA, and wouldn’t mind learning more about the practice of testing).
  • Leave a trail; document what you’ve been playing with, especially if (er, since) it deviates from the “official syllabus.” Make sure you can always justify why you’re playing with X instead.
  • Think out loud in backchannels where you won’t feel so shy/guilty about asking questions, but where others can hear and respond to you – you’re a lot more likely to ask questions and have conversations that lead to enlightenment this way.
  • Take some time at the end to reflect on the roadmap and review what you have learned and make a plan of attack for the next day for both what you’re going to learn and how you’re going to learn it.

This blog post thereby fulfils the last bullet point in that collection. I’m hitting the books, then hitting the pillow for a grand total of 4 hours or so (sorry, Andrew – I fail at sleeping tonight).

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  1. 3 Responses to “How could I learn any other way?”

  2. And again! and again! and again! let me tell you — you are delightful.

    I don’t begin to understand how you do what you do and run without sleep, but when you describe it from inside yourself, that kind of ecstatic manic joy puzzle solving adrenaline buzz, I get it. And just tasting it makes me laugh. Is there a characteristic of ADHD that could be called giddy-productive?

    go fight win, Mel.

    By erin on Sep 23, 2009

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