Learning: the right challenge at the right time

It’s that time in my life where school is suddenly in the picture, via¬†a certain 4-year-old I know ūüôā One thing I’ve already noticed is how ready a child can be for a new challenge.¬†A challenge that is big, worrying, exciting, almost too much to get your head around – yet, at the same time, exactly what you needed without realizing just how ready you were to take on something completely new.

Ready for a challenge

Cat taking on the challenge | Click to view image by Waponigirl on Flickr

Continue reading

The importance of feedback for your learning

Whenever you are¬†learning¬†something new,¬†there’s nothing more important than the feedback loop¬† – you need to know how you’re doing at¬†your task. This helps¬†you improve¬†your learning¬†process to bring that moment nearer when you’ll be able to say “Yes! Now I can do this.”

Feedback Loops And 'Learning'

A demonstration of what the right feedback loops and algorithms can do in machines.

I recently watched a video from Zurich.MINDS and really only got interested when Raffaello D’Angelo started talking about feedback loops in computerized machines. Continue reading

The temporary teacher – education by subject matter experts

Education matters to me. Not least because I spent about 20 years at a school of some description. And learning¬†new things¬†is my favorite passtime, especially at work ūüėČ

What will education look like in the future? What will that mean for teachers? And how will the pupils fare under the new educational practice?

Education by specialists: the temporary teacher

Temporary teacher: Education by Subject Matter Experts

Subject Matter Experts On The Loose – HikingArtist.com; Flickr image

Continue reading

How to get the hang of creative writing

A while ago I wrote about my urge to start writing a book. In this post I’ll share my discoveries about writing. If you’re a seasoned writer, some of¬†what I¬†tell you¬†may not be totally surprising.

Creative writing beginnings

At first, creative writing was like having to crack my head open – Greek mythology, goddess-Athena-born-from-the-head-of-Zeus style.

Creative writing is much like climbing a steep hill

To climb steep hills … (Shakespeare) – Image by Mark Notari on Flickr

If you’re at that¬†painful stage, check my earlier post and do what I did. Or not. Odds are you’re trying to move a rusty lever from rational, business, objective to creative, psychological, inner-world.

Word count – how fast should you write?

There is no rule for word count. The rate at which I produce – or, let the words out – has accelerated since I started. On a really good weekday I do between 500 and 1000 words:

  1. Wake up et cetera.
  2. Commute by train: phone, 1 hour for writing max.
  3. Work.
  4. Commute by train: phone, 1 hour max.
  5. Cook, dinner, TV with family.
  6. Sit down and type: laptop, 90 minutes of writing max. But of course that blog post needs attention – time – as well.

700 words in 3,5 hours is about 200 words per hour. 250+ in extreme cases.

On bad days? 100-200 words. Zero if I don’t find the time.

Finding extra writing time

Now the days are getting longer I’ve¬†wondered myself if I should use some quiet time on Saturday or Sunday morning (not both – please!) to get more words out at the weekends. But I’m not sure yet. Our son has entered another “I just wanna be close to you” phase. Which is endearing but extremely impractical.

Would spending a whole day writing help?

If you’re getting started in creative writing you may find that spending an entire day at the keyboard doesn’t help at all. Why not? I’ve given this some thought.

  • If I could get a full day of writing I could, theoretically, write 8 x 200 words¬†= 1600 words. I wouldn’t call that a good day if it meant sitting at a keyboard for eight hours on a¬†day off.
  • A good day would include 3 hours outside walking or gardening. In reality I’d spend part of those 3 hours doing housework to avoid feeling guilty about the mess after a day¬†spent at home.
  • With 5 hours left, I’d be down to about 1000 words¬†– which isn’t that much better than I do now.

Based on this insight I haven’t tried to write for eight hours straight just yet. Or even five.

First results, quantity-wise

So far (April 7) I’ve produced a bit over 6000 words. Since novels tend to have at least around 100.000 words these words¬†represent 6% of a novel. That’s if I’m lucky and this stuff turns out to be good raw material for the next stage. And if I’m not on a 150K-word writing quest.

Update April 18: I’m now at 12000 words. Possibly because I really got 90 minutes’ value in the evenings in the past week? Anyway this could mean I’ve reached¬†10% of a novel ūüôā

To be quite honest: I have no idea if I’ll be able to keep getting¬†useful stuff out of my head. Hopefully I’ve hit a¬†‘steady stream’ stage.

What will the next stage of writing look like?

Easy. Rewriting.

I¬†happened to¬†read a post by a fellow blogger about how after writing, at first you’ll end up with “really crappy crap”.* That’s when the fun of rewriting begins. I can’t wait. But first, I have writing to do ūüôā

* If that fellow blogger was you, let me know in a comment. You may add a link to your post about “crappy crap” first drafts, because it was obviously interesting enough to remember.

Tip for budding writers

Keep the pressure way down until you manage to move¬†that rusty old switch in your head from ‘business’ to ‘creativity’:

  1. Don’t worry about word count, poetic phrases, or anything like that.
  2. Don’t force yourself into an eight-hour-a-day writing schedule. An hour every other day is fine – just write.
  3. Don’t invest in high-status writing software just yet –¬†the empty screen will stare you down.

Remember my little unpretentious notebook. – which I’m not using any more. I’m keeping it though, as my no-pressure ‘just jot it down somewhere’ option.

Read more:

What¬†does (creative) writing mean to you? Add your thoughts about creativity, writing and the like in a comment and expect a reply ūüėČ

How improving your learning strategy will help your career

If there’s one thing in my career I’ve regretted it’s not¬†pouring some strategy into¬†my learning processes sooner.

Here’s the thing: I was a fast learning kid. No plodding for me. Sounds great, right?

Career Hurdles and Learning Strategy

Women’s Final of 80 meter hurdles, Olympic Games, London, 1948.
Daily Herald Archive at the National Media Museum [Click to view image on Flickr]

Wrong. The one thing you need to consider – I’m now looking at it as a parent – is that if your kid¬†is (or if you are) very fast on the uptake, part of all that learning capacity should go into the strategy of learning. Don’t wait till your kid is 16 years old.

Questions for your learning strategy

Starting small, explore questions like these:

  1. What is learning?
  2. How can you learn something new?
  3. What different methods of learning are there?
  4. What works for learning different topics?
  5. How can you tell how you should go about a new task or a new subject? It’s ‘meta’ time ūüôā

Most importantly, you need to take the whole concept of learning to a level where the task in hand no longer matters. Only when knowing how to perform a specific task is no longer enough does your need to know #5 become apparent.

How can being a fast learner spoil your learning?

That’s easy. My default learning strategy was: “You read it. You read it again. You’re ready.” Sophisticated stuff, I know. It worked for me most of the time.

Oddly enough, it didn’t work¬†with maths after a certain point. Of course now I know that¬†I¬†was trying¬†to memorize everything without understanding any of it.

There’s nothing like a crisis to revise your¬†learning strategy

When did I finally revise my learning ‘strategy’? After I failed big time in my first year at university. I had four exams and failed two. How did that happen? Actually this is a bit embarrassing in retrospect. I failed because I couldn’t read and memorize everything in that foot-high pile of … well, stuff about art ūüėČ

This was an eye-opener. I had¬†skipped maths before my grades reached embarrassing levels. Getting really poor grades for the first time in your life makes it painfully clear you’re doing something fundamentally wrong. It is, as they say, a great learning opportunity. Yay!

It worked. I learned.

How does a learning strategy help you in your career?

Whenever you’re faced with a new task, new job, new career, you’ll find yourself having to figure out what will work best in that particular situation. Doing what you always did will lead to good results in some cases, or it will leave you in a smelly bog wondering what went wrong.

Bringing a strategic approach to your tasks means you will do things like:

  1. come up with a rough guide or plan for a new task,
  2. consciously¬†opt for a general direction that’s most likely to get results,
  3. finetune your actions as you go along.

Take a learning approach to your career – starting today.

More reading:

How do you approach new tasks? Add your thoughts about learning, plodding, career, and school issues in a comment. I will, as always, reply to anything non-spammy ūüėČ

Blogging impressions: tips to make guest blogging work for you

Since August last year I’ve written “Blogging impressions” posts regularly to keep track of my progress in blogging. I regularly share tips on how to overcome issues many bloggers must run into.

Today my first guest post was published. For that reason this post is about (first time) guest blogging.

Why it’s important to guest blog

Guest Blogging (summer visitor, picture from last year)

I’m not going to give you “get a bigger audience through guest blogging” talk. Plenty of blogs will tell you that,¬†and then they’ll¬†try to sell you their e-books for ‘free’ after which they spam you with 400 Dollar webinars until you unsubscribe or block them to keep them from clogging up your mailbox.

Guest blogging is important as a¬†learning method: it offers you a new writing experience. You get to write for an audience you’re not familiar with, so you only have the blog owner’s advice to go on – that and having a quick look at previous posts, and possibly comments from readers.

For that reason I view guest blogging as a thinking exercise. You’ll consider how you’ll gently tweak your blogging habits to suit the¬†audience you’re writing for. In my case, I’d started tweaking before I guest blogged.

Don’ts in guest blogging

  • Don’t even consider writing a sloppy guest post. If you’re lucky you’ll get turned down. If you’re not so lucky, you’ll¬†get published and a lot of potential readers will have a chance to enjoy poor¬†writing or a post with an unfinished feel to it.
  • Don’t write 5 times better than you would on your own blog. If you can’t put in enough time to produce good posts, anyone who finds your excellent guest post¬†and then visits your blog will turn away disappointed.

Tips to make (first-time) guest blogging work

  1. Find a blog to guest post on that is as similar in style and/or topics to your own as possible.
  2. Make sure you meet the blog owner’s criteria: word count, picture, the lot.
  3. Make sure you meet your own criteria for publishing before you submit your guest blog. If you’re not sure if your post is good enough, consider drafting and previewing it on your own blog. If you have doubts about publishing it on your own territory, don’t submit it yet.

Whatever else you do, try to match your own blog’s best posts.

Why guest blogging isn’t a must-do for everyone

If you’re happy on your own blog and¬†you have¬†enough readers to keep you blogging along, that’s fine. It may take you longer to assemble a crowd of readers – but then again, it may not, if you’re able to connect with casual visitors. Which happens a lot on ‘private’ blogs because there’s so much we recognize in each others’ lives.

Getting a personal connection by talking about businessy topics¬†is harder, and tends to happen (at first?) when¬†you blog¬†about something you feel strongly about. You’re only human – people get that.

What are your thoughts on Рor experiences and tips from Рguest blogging?

Brain innovation: why you need to change your mind

Don’t you just love brain talk? I do. Reading this interview with Janet Crawford (part 2, anyway) was both enlightening and inspiring. It answers the question why many of us – but not all of us – find it hard to deal with change. Here’s my take on ‘brain innovation’.

Stuck in a rut? You bet.

Brain change: Meandering River

[Image: The Goosenecks, San Juan river, Utah – on Flickr, by Jesse Varner, 2005]

By the time we’re 40, or 50, we’ve built an archive in our brains¬†of “things that work”. This knowledge and these actions have kept us prospering for years and we view them as good stuff for that reason. These aren’t just words – our experiences have become part of our brain patterns.

Doing something¬†contrary to ‘what¬†works’ is like walking on a path you’ve never taken because you’ve spent a lifetime believing it ends in a swamp. Starting down it takes a conscious decision – and it may take considerable effort to keep¬†walking.

Career change means brain innovation

There’s all kinds of articles you can read about the¬†‘modern career’ – if you have the time, and in some cases a handy bucket:

  • “Stop looking for job security, focus on income security”
  • “In this fast-paced, ever-changing society we must let go of old beliefs”
  • “Parents telling their kids to get a steady job-with-a-contract are¬†giving off all the wrong signals!”

Right now, our society is less likely to support steady jobs than we expected 30 years ago. But oddly enough not less likely than, say, 80 years ago.

A few career survival skills:

  1. entrepreneurship (even at its most basic)
  2. networking (investing in relationships with people you don’t need right now)
  3. looking ahead, beyond your current working environment
  4. spotting opportunities
  5. selecting relevant topics and new skills to learn about
  6. learning.

Any job where you don’t need even one of these skills is probably not going to help you in the long run.

A¬†woman ‘between’ jobs in her fifties told me: “Nothing in my previous job [at a local government] prepared me for this. I’m reinventing myself.”

Opening up your mind to new possibilities

In brain terms, changing your mind at¬†a fundamental level¬†is much like changing the course of a river. It takes engineering skill or you’ll end up with a mess and the river will return to its old bed no matter what you try.

What if you’re not a ‘mind change engineer’?

Read. Diversify. Develop new interests, or regard those you have as side branches of the river that is your career. They are not ‘just’ hobbies – they give you a chance to explore a side of you that doesn’t fit in with your current job.

How do you keep your brain fresh and open to change?