I’ve been facilitating training session in a wide array of topics for many years now, and it struck me the other day that there’s a lot of content out there about being a great teacher, but not a whole lot about how to be a great student.
In this day and age, self-development as an adult is a HUGE mantra we hear daily – it’s perfectly normal for most people to attend after work developmental classes such as singing, dance, sport, and even more common that companies invest in their employees and send people to training and improvement courses.
So why be a great student?
Firstly, if a trainer has great students in their session, they’re more likely to feel inspired to give the best class they can themselves, and who doesn’t want the best of content and delivery that a subject matter expert can bring to the table?
Secondly, being a better student means enhancing your own capability to learn, and very likely boosting your speed and efficiency in attaining and retaining the skills you’ve learnt. This alone should be the impetus for being a better student!
In my view, there are several things a student of any skill can quickly become a better student and learner. However no student has exemplified this for me as much as my most recent technology trainee, and 87 year old man I’ve been teaching iPad too, and I’ll call him J.
Yes, you heard me right, he is 87.
And more technologically savvy than many 50 year olds out there, with a PC, Kindle, iPad and iPod touch. And he knows how to use all of them and cannot sate his desire to learn more about how he can enhance his life with these gadgets.
These are the ways in which J is a model student:
1. J IS A LIFELONG LEARNER
At 87, J hasn’t hung up his learning hat, even despite having lived quite an incredible life of passion, fulfilling his dreams, representing his country and living in several countries. His passion is clear – he wants to constantly improve his life and keep his mental skills nimble, and it’s working. At his age, he’s healthy, limber, and quick witted, and perhaps most impressively, completely self sufficient. He’s even planning a holiday to the UK this year!
This passion for learning has him travelling to various places for lessons, and even goes to shops to research the new gadgets he reads about. He takes notes diligently, and spends his alone time listening to audiobooks and processing the information he’s learnt. He researches new musicians he may like, and stays up to date with current affairs.
2. J PUTS NO LIMITATIONS ON HIS LEARNING
J has never said the words “I can’t”. He overcomes aching shakey fingers to manipulate his iPod and Kindle controls which are fiddly. He understands that learning requires an investment of energy, time, and money, and is happy to make those investments. He does not say “you do it for me” – if I’m so much as creating a shortcut on his desktop to make something easily accesible, he wants to learn HOW to make that shortcut himself. He also never thinks anything is too hard for him to learn, and instead tells me that he just needs a bit of time and repetition to process it. It’s refreshing, and inspiring.
3. J IS POLITE
Ever polite students are a teacher’s dream. When you’re focussed on learning, sometimes you don’t think about how your manner may come across when asking questions or expressing your (very natural) frustration with a difficult learning curve. J is quintessentially gentlemanly, and always prefaces his questions with helpful context, always is almost apologetic for having an additional question, and if he finds out it’s his own user error involved, NEVER gets defensive or makes excuses.
Not that you should feel apologetic for asking questions – but it’s always nice from a teacher’s end if before asking an additional question, you make sure the teacher her time to devote to the solution. It’s nice that J assesses if a question should be posed RIGHT at the end of a lesson, or writes it down to ask at our next session or via email later on. It gives me the luxury to respond to it with an appropriate amount of attention, and doesn’t make me feel pushed.
4. J TAKES NOTES
In any lesson, you only ever retain about 20% of what you’ve learnt. It’s perfectly normal. But if you want to train yourself to retain up to 80% of what was taught, you should absolutely take notes. I seldom recommend relying on provided notes – how many times have we actually gone back to refer to a provided textbook after a class? I would wager that it’s seldom. When you take notes though, you are firstly re-enforcing what is said, but also transcribing it in your own language and format. If you refer to them, chances are you will understand your own version of things much better than the most comprehensive textbooks.
J doesn’t just take notes, he makes me stop teaching for a moment so he can take the time to accurately write down steps or explanations. It’s proven a huge help to his learning – 90% of the time he has been able to execute the same actions learnt in his own time between lessons, with his notes.
5. J PRACTICES IN HIS OWN TIME
Every time I meet him for a lesson, J has used the time in between to practice what he’s learnt. This means there’s very little repetition in our classes, and we seldom waste time repeating what he’s already been shown. This discipline is rather incredible to behold – few people have natural disposition toward spending their scant leisure time devoted to working or learning, but J does. He enjoys it, and feels more confident as a student as a result.
When he comes into a problem in his practice, he writes down exactly what the issue is, how it made him feel, and what the steps he took were. When I arrive for my lesson, it is usually extremely easy to pinpoint the issue, and show him the right path.
If you used this technique of writing something down EVERY time you feel a mistake is made in anything you’re learning, I’d wager that sooner or later, you’ll see a pattern in your execution that has caused it. Practice, deliberate practice, and conscious practice are vital to learning well.
This was just PART 1 of what makes a great student, with J (my 87 year old technology student) as an example. Part 2 is coming very soon, stay tuned!