Optimum Interning

Question asked on Quora today:  What are some unexpected benefits from being “self-taught” in something?

Reply from Gus Griffin:  There are advantages and drawbacks to both learning approaches, whether: a) you are setting your own learning agenda, or b) someone else is deciding what you need to learn first, second, etc.

When your learning is self-selected you are more likely to be able to use what you learn because you will be following an instinctive learning agenda whether you are aware of it or not. If you trust your mind to learn what it needs when it needs it, you will find it easier to retrieve and use your learning later on when you need it. You will be more likely to “think with your subject” rather than follow “now I am supposed to” memories of what you were told.

On the other hand, the learner doesn’t know what they don’t know. When your learning is guided by someone with greater expertise, then it is likely to be more comprehensive and with less blank spots you don’t realise you are overlooking or lacking. Even when they don’t possess greater expertise, a good teacher will still seek to feed you knowhow in a layered sequence that should make it easier for you to smoothly progress through levels of competence, thus protecting you from biting off more than you can chew until you become well grounded in the basics.

The most important thing to know about truly adaptive human learning is that it is always fundamentally based upon emulation: seeking to be able to do what you see others can do (and then also seeking to surpass that if sufficiently motivated). Even 2nd-hand learning from books etc is still based on imagined emulation – if not, if it’s just facts remembered, then the so-called learning is non-adaptive and will be useless “busy-work”.

People learn most effectively when they have the freedom to try out different ways of copying what other people can do. This is a natural process of finding what works for you, what fits with your particular personality and concenters your best aptitudes upon the task. Leaving plenty of room for such personal adjusting of knowhow also breeds the most interesting and useful innovations.

So, as a manager and teambuilder for over 20 years, I found it most effective to pair up my new recruits to work under a hand-picked series of more experienced staff, one after the other. You can’t always tell who an apprentice or intern will find it easiest to emulate (learn from), so I would watch how each did with the role model assigned – and when his or her improvement seemed slow or leveled off, I would then re-pair them with the next role model I had in mind.

When I found a good match—where the newby was clearly making good progress gaining in competence—I might leave that pair together for six months or more. This informal method of apprenticing obtained the best from both worlds: allowing the learner to acquire knowhow at their own pace and in their own way, but through exposing them to different styles of expertise within their field.

I also required all my staff to let their assistants sit-in and observe any work they wished to (as long as they didn’t neglect their assigned duties), so they had access to everything the senior was doing as they wanted it. In practice, each assistant would then gradually take duties off their senior’s plate as they came to feel competent enough to do so … until they had ultimately learned the whole job at their own pace and in their own way and from a variety of role models, simply by following their own natural learning inclinations.

Painless apprenticing while maximizing integration of natural talents. Most so-called teaching clashes with a person’s instinctive learning processes far too much to obtain optimum results.

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Posted August 14, 2019 at 4:09 pm by Gus Griffin · Permalink
In: Misc