Ten Pointers For Effective Adult Learning

Saturdays With Shivani

Learning as an adult is very different from how we learn in our younger days. I am the unabashed, unapologetic, self-styled expert on praudh shiksha; old age learning. In the last four years, after I turned forty, I have gone back to university to pursue a full-time writing course, started dabbling in art and lately I am testing waters with strength training. 

As varied as these skills might be, the journey of their acquisition is riddled with self-doubt. Even if we may have successfully swept away the log kya kahenges, the questions that onlookers might ask, we still need a lot of mental strength to trudge along. When people ask me how I manage to do it, I often lapse into silence not because I don’t know what to say but because there is quite a bit I have to. Here is a crux of what I might want to tell them;

  1. Start with a clean slate. Get rid of those pre-conceived notions; unlearn and declutter so we can make way for the new knowledge. Once we are immersed into it, we may want to fall back on our previous knowledge, compare and come up with our own personal lessons but in the beginning, start afresh.
  2. Be patient. We need to remind ourselves that it took us years to graduate from learning the alphabet to actually reading full-fledged sentences. Learning and unlearning takes time; let’s allow ourselves that luxury.
  3. Muscle memory is a real thing. Practice helps. Unless we do it regularly, its not coming to us. There are no shortcuts.
  4. Find your tribe. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people helps. They not only extend their hand to help us back on our feet every time we fall, they also give us a sense of kinship in what otherwise could be a very lonely and scary journey.
  5. Acknowledge the milestones. As a kid, while on road trips, I would follow the milestones. It would give me the feeling of being on the right track and inching closer to the destination. Do that now. Journaling progress helps. A plank held longer, an extra set of exercise, thousand words in a day; they are all indicators that we are doing great.
  6. Step back to look at the big picture. Breaking a larger goal into smaller bits is helpful but an occasional self-appraisal serves as a timely reminder.
  7. Fear of failure is bigger than failure. It paralyses us. Unless we do, how will we know so take that first step and focus on the next. We may falter, we may fall but we would have moved past our fear.
  8. Self-castigation is injurious to learning. Don’t beat yourself up. 
  9. Forget the mistakes, remember the lessons; something I often said to my students is now serving me well as I pick new skills. 
  10. Trust your guru. Incidentally I picked to write this on Guru Purnima, traditionally a day when we acknowledge and thank our gurus, our teachers. I put a lot of premium on teachers and the best part about adult learning is the freedom to choose them. Choose wisely not just for the learning quotient but also for the trust factor. I say this from a personal space that unless I can trust my teachers, I find it difficult to imbibe their teaching.

Today is a good day to thank my mother whose words in tandem with her actions continue to inspire me. Gratitude is also due to Rhiti, my art teacher, whose patience and kindness have given me confidence to even identify myself as an artist. A shout out also to Mihika, my fitness trainer, who helps me focus on the importance of strength than the futility of obsessing over weight. May we all find such wonderful teachers because without them where would we be?

Dr. Shivani Salil

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