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Members talk back: The best way to learn

A recent article about the ideal approach to learning provoked several comments from members, including one from an EMT who compares IT work to his current profession. Read more to get some other ideas about perfect students.


TechRepublic members have fleshed out my original description of the perfect learner to include the importance of attitude, courage, and poise under pressure. My description of a dream student who knew how to plunge into a piece of software and start learning prompted some reflection and some self-analysis from our members:

The right approach
Tom K. said that it has been a while since he formally taught classes, “Introduction to Fortran, if that gives you a hint,” but one student sticks out in his mind.

“He was a PL/1 programmer who worked for Ozark Airlines (another bit of history). He, of course, mastered all of the concepts presented. But he basically asked for more work to do.

“A coworker of mine had mentioned months before a theoretical program: a checking account using Roman numerals. So, I gave the student that task. And, not only did he write such a program, but he researched the Roman numeral system and taught me more than I knew about Roman numerals! For example, the Romans, after reaching a certain value, would put lines above existing symbols in order to represent even larger values. And this student of mine programmed even that into the assignment!

“As I grow older, I am convinced of the towering importance of attitude.”

Courage in the face of uncertainty
Ghosford said that there is an additional characteristic to ideal learners that my article didn’t mention: being unafraid to fail.

“This may be implied in the other qualities, but I find that the reason many students don't learn as well as they should is that they are afraid they are going to screw up the computer somehow. Although there is something to be said about not poking around in something you know nothing about (like the Windows Registry), most computer users need to poke around more than they do. As trainers, we need to provide users with a ‘safe’ environment where users can poke around and not cause major damage if they do manage to do something wrong. It sounds like the guy in the article knew enough to know what to stay out of, but a curious attitude, a ’safe’ environment, and some encouragement that it doesn't matter if they do something wrong can do wonders for some users!”

Is IT work like emergency medicine?
Patrick S. has a personal connection to Mike C. from the ideal learning article. He connects the skills he uses in his current profession, emergency medicine, to what he needs to join his new field of interest, IT.

“I've been a paramedic for several years, and am a CPR and EMT instructor. Only in the past year have I really focused on IT, because IT pays and the medical field doesn't (non-MD).

“So, that being said, I'm the best student I've ever taught, at least when it comes to medical stuff. I'm always digging, always asking questions. I love the stuff.

“And, honestly, IT isn't really all that different from medical triage: here's the symptom, identify the afflicted party, decide what's abnormal, search for the relation, find the cause, treat it, fix the problem. Now, in the medical field, you can't just walk in and do something to see if it works. You've got to know what to do before you get there for several situations. With IT, there's tons more latitude. So, basically, I learn by doing, then teaching. That's the best way to learn: see it, do it, teach it.”

Patrick signed off with a comment about being perceived as an egomaniac, but a certain amount of ego is a good thing when it comes to learning new things. If you don’t have the confidence in your ability to learn and develop new skills, you won’t get very far in the IT world.

The start of a beautiful friendship
The question does come up, “What does this person have to learn from me?” If the student doesn’t really need a teacher, then what’s the point? Sergey L. wrote, “I am not sure that I understand the role of a trainer with such a student. And what will the future position of the student be after the learning?”

The best part of meeting such a student is that he or she becomes a colleague once the class is over and the professional relationship begins. Now instead of being in the authority role and being expected to know all the answers, the trainer can accept the role of friend or coworker. This kind of two-way exchange creates a wonderful resource for information and advice. An exceptional student can be a great go-to person. If you are not an expert in an area that fascinates your student, you can augment your own knowledge by picking your student's brain and asking for his or her ideas on the subject. Your business relationship can also benefit by each person sending business the other person's way.
How do you make the switch from teacher to coworker? How do you keep these relationships separate from class? What is the best way to develop contacts and potential future business with your students? Send us an e-mail with your stories.

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