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Teaching Skills Teaching Skills > How to Teach > Theory of Learning Series > Part 1 How learning got a bad name for itself
Summary: Does your student hate learning music? - Learning is fun! So how come it's got such a bad name for itself?

How learning got a bad name for itself

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What is 'learning'?

Learning is the process by which we expand our understanding and ability. It is a life-enhancing process - one that is pleasurable and entirely beneficial.

To learn about something is to increase one's understanding of that thing. To learn a new skill is to add to one's range of abilities.

Learning opens doors, widens horizons, adds colour to our experience, makes life more interesting.


It may seem odd then that in the mind of many individuals, the idea of learning has quite negative associations. This springs from two main sources: Parenting and Schooling.

The word 'learn' is often used in anger and frustration by parents:

"When will you ever learn / Why can't you learn / You'd better start learning...
... to behave/ to do as you're told/ to be sensible/ to sit still/ to be quiet"

...etc. etc. This introduces, from an early age, the idea that learning has an element of duress attached to it.

When your child comes home from school complaining of boredom - it is not learning that has bored him - remember: "Learning opens doors, widens horizons, adds colour to our experience, makes life more interesting." Rather it is a lack of learning brought about by the less than ideal conditions that modern education systems attempt to operate under.

Although improvements are continually being made to education there remains the basic set of problems that spring from the financial and logistical restraints placed upon schools where typically, one teacher is charged with the task of causing learning to occur in as many as 30 children simultaneously, often in subjects they have little or no natural interest in.

Unfortunately it gets worse. The whole subject of teaching gets mixed in with the subject of control and, where teachers feel particularly vulnerable, outright subjugation.

Thus what the student experiences as education is often a far cry from something that is ".. a life-enhancing process - one that is pleasurable and entirely beneficial."

But no matter how horrific or boring a time you had of it at school - it is vital to recognize that "learning" was not the cause of the pain or the boredom. Other things done in the name of learning caused that.

As adults we generally apply ourselves to learning something new as a means to an end: Improving our computer skills to better our chances of promotion, learning the basics of a new language so that we can better enjoy our holiday abroad or just revising the laws of compound interest so that we can understand why our credit card costs us so much!

We send our children off to school however, often without the faintest notion of why they should study. At best they are given a broad general admonition along the lines of:

"You had better work hard at school or you will end up having to do something nasty for a living!"

So many schoolchildren have little or no real motivation of their own to engage in learning - at least not at school. Outside school they may show a surprising level of concentration, perseverance, and application as they spend hours patiently mastering the latest skateboarding trick or putting up a collage of magazine clippings about their favourite football team, pop idol, movie star or whatever.

Why is any of this of importance to the guitar teacher?

Well, it is vital to realize that 'learning' is the word that best describes the line of work you are in! Your students will be very happy to continue to financially support you as long as 'learning' occurs as a result of your efforts.

And the first thing to know about learning is that it is fun! That it is enjoyable! That it is positive.

So if the student sitting in front of you is shaking with fear, slipping into a coma, or showing any signs of distress whatsoever - then you can be certain that learning is not occurring at that point.

What is happening is that your actions, or maybe just their finding themselves in a 'school-like' situation, has caused the student to be reminded of all the abuse suffered in their past at the hands of those charged with the task of educating them.

This is why you will see grown men tremble at the knees when they arrive at their first lesson - it's not you that's putting the fear of God into them, but a half-forgotten memory of being humiliated by some half-wit teacher who knew of no better way to keep control of the class.

Some practical advice based on the above:

  • Be prepared to be very gentle with people during their first lesson especially.
  • Never underestimate the level of anxiety that the student may be experiencing.
  • Don't fall into the trap of thinking that this is because they are poor learners.
  • If the student shows signs of distress during the lesson it is never because of learning.

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Related Pages
.   Motivation Moves Mountains
.   Contact with the Subject
.   Mental Processing
.   Assimilating
.   Relative Importance
.   Information Overwhelm
.   Information Retention
.   Making and Breaking habits
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