I could spend hours (or years, probably) rambling on about all the problems I have with public education, but I don’t want to do that today. You’re welcome.
I have, however, spent a lot of time as of late thinking about the nature of learning and what seems to be the reflex way in which most people go about acquiring knowledge or a new skill.
This day and age is a bit unique. Once upon a time, your only option was school or an apprenticeship of some sort. Then came the internet, and a plethora of options along with it. Online classes through the universities, online classes taught by Joe-Bob-Wilson from some random cabin in Wisconsin, YouTube tutorials, and for the especially impatient (yet financially stable) folks you can even enroll in a ‘bootcamp’ of sorts that gets you primed and ready to leap into your dream career in a matter of weeks! Sounds great, right?! Seems like everybody should be enjoying prosperity and a satisfying career, right?!??
NO. No. And I’ll tell you why.
All of these options address several problems that many people face when trying to educate themselves. Can’t leave your house? No problem. Short on cash? No problem! Time’s a wastin’ and you aren’t getting any younger?! That’s no problem either, look how quickly you too can learn to be an internet ninja/programmer/designer/editor/tech-writer/insert-whatever-profession-most-relevant-to-you!
The one problem it doesn’t address is the fact that many people simply rely too much on the educators to educate them. The instructors, the programs, the video tutorials…All of them are fabulous tools to help you along the way. You need more, though! You can have all the tools in the world to build a house, but if you don’t have a deep understanding of the structural and architectural science behind how a house must actually be built, then you’re hosed.
Let me share an example. I’ve known a few people who’ve ‘learned’ some form of coding via the internet or online classes. These people did really well in the classes, and were proud of the things they built along the way. Something interesting happened, though. Once the classes were over, all of them crashed and burned. They really didn’t get far with their practice afterwards. None of them got (and kept) a job in the field. I may not be able to say this with absolute certainty, but I will say it with absolute confidence:
Failure to facilitate one’s own learning results in little or no long-term progress.
These friends of mine were great at following instructions, but they didn’t take the time to apply these concepts on their own, in the dark, without breadcrumbs leading them to a specific product that was the brain-child of somebody else. Classes are great, but they should be supplemental, not the end-all-be-all of your education. The best way to learn anything is to just DO it, and the solutions you find when you’re flailing about by yourself are the ones that stick with you for good. If you want to learn how to build web sites, by all means, utilize the many free and/or cheap options to teach you that basic HTML/CSS. But, when you’re done, you have to keep going on your own. Design one and build one yourself. Just BEGIN. Don’t worry about it being kind of ugly, just worry about finishing it. Hack away at it, and when you get stuck (and you will, multiple times), look for the answer. The internet is at your finger tips. You’ll find it (possibly after a few hours of agony), and you’ll remember it.
Want to learn illustration? There are tons of great tutorials to teach you what all the tools do within your chosen software program. Tips and tricks run abound. Once you’ve got that down, though, don’t spend 40 hours on tutorials learning how to copy someone else’s illustration. Copy it WITHOUT a tutorial. Find an illustration you admire and just start. You probably have no idea, at a glance, how to do it. PERFECT. That’s exactly what you need. Hack away at it and when you get stuck, search around the ol’ Goog for the answer. You’ll find it, and you’ll remember.
Do this a whole, whole lot. Get in the habit of throwing yourself into the lake to learn how to swim. It’s far more painful, and perhaps it seems like it takes more time. In the end, you’ll be stronger for it. Not to mention, that career change you dream about might actually become a reality.
P.s., I do highly recommend copying work for sake of LEARNING. Master studies aren’t just for painters! However, you should never,ever, evereverEVER present those copies as if they are yours. If you share, make sure to specify that it’s a copy, and credit the author. If you’re worried, don’t share it at all. This is only for your own skill development.