Let’s Stop Learning Alone

The Coffee Klatch. Sketching People in Real Life at Third Place Commons in Lake Forest Park.

We live in a golden age of learning. Pick any subject you would like to learn, and someone has posted a free video on Youtube. You can join a massive online (or MOOC) class at Coursera or EdX and learn from the best professors at the top Universities. You can pay a subscription and have quality courses from experts at Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning with courses that are available 24 hours a day to teach you how to analyze a spreadsheet or give a business presentation. You can join Master Class to learn film-making directly from David Lynch or Storytelling from Neil Gaiman. The possibilities are endless, and I’m proud to say that I’ve done my part by working on democratizing learning.

We have a feast before us. And I would never want to go back. I think about my process of starting a business. In just the space of a couple of weeks, I’ve watched small business marketing courses on LinkedIn Learning, a video on tracking your business expenses on Youtube, and attended two webinars on products. These quick online learning lessons were exactly what I needed to understand a technology or business problem at the moment.

However…while online learning is great for a lot of things–I’m going to say that learning in person is even better. It is time for us to stop bowling alone, or learning alone, and get back out there in small community groups and learn from an instructor, learn from one another and engage with our neighbors.

If you aren’t familiar with the term bowling alone, it comes from the title of the essay, and later a book by Robert D. Putman that spoke about the loss of Civic Engagement in the United States. Published in 2000, and seriously, if Putnam saw that things were bad in 2000, remember this was the time before smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix binging, etc. The year 2000? 2019 is calling and asks you to hold their beer.

I think it is time to meld the best of both worlds again. Keep the options from online, but add a little real-life interaction into the mix–especially if you want to learn a craft or become an expert on a topic. For myself, that came in the form of Cloud 9 Art School in Bothell, a small art school run by my long-time friend Charlene Freeman. The school sits in an older building at the edge of Bothell and is light and airy with two floors of classroom space.

What I’ve found there is that third place. Third place is a term to describe a social space that is separate from home (the first place), and work (the second place). I started by taking a course on the Artist’s Way with Charlene. I spent twelve weeks with a small group of wonderful women talking about our creative lives and spurring one another on. I could have just read the book, but being in a group together, going through the chapters, and holding one another accountable was key for the experience. On our last night together, the class met at the Beardslee Pub in Bothell to celebrate with one another and to pledge to meet back up in a few months to see where we were on our Artist’s journey.

I didn’t stop there. I decided to take a Nature Sketchbook class from Charlene. You can learn more about why I thought that class was the push I needed here. But here I want to stress again that when I entered the classroom, there were women there who had taken courses at the school before and the class felt more community. While I learned about watercolor and sketching techniques, I also learned more about the women around me. Some were working artists, and some were naturalists, and some were newbies with no connection like me. My favorite part of each session was where people would share their sketches from the previous week. Did I mention there were working artists? It would be easy to be intimidated, but instead, it was inspiring.

My sketch from Bothell Landing of a fence post.

I recently finished a Sketchbook Journaling class, and while the people are different, again there were many repeat Cloud 9 students. With each class, this place feels more like home. We even went to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (get it third place?) to sketch people in real life. Our last class was spent roaming around Bothell Landing, and I spent a nice hour sketching with others at a picnic table. While learning, I’ve had good conversations with other students and feel more like I’m part of a community.

This isn’t to say that I’ve completely abandoned online learning or plan to. For my artwork, I like cruising Youtube channels with watercolor artists. Sometimes I run them in the background while I’m working and I’ve learned some things from them. I watched filmmaker David Lynch’s Master Class to learn more about how he creates. But I tell you, having the person next to you tell you that they like a palette you used or the bird you drew is much more rewarding than 1000 likes on a twitter or Instagram post. Having feedback directly from the instructor about your work is far more instructive than reading comments below a Youtube video and never getting direct feedback.

Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People also published The 8th Habit. The 8th habit is to find your voice & inspire others to find theirs. With that, I’m taking what I learned in the Artist’s Way workshop from Char and my fellow students, and I’ll be sharing that with others by facilitating the next session of the Artist’s Way workshop this fall at Cloud 9. I hope you will join me and others from our community there.

The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Kahn: A book Review

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First of all a thank you to Lynda Weinman, Lynda of lynda.com for giving every single one of the company’s employees a copy of this book over the holidays. Books make the best gifts and when I start a job and first thing they hand me is a stack of free books I know I’ve landed in the right place. 

You have heard of Salman Khan the creator of the Khan Academy and this book published by TwelveBooks serve as an introduction to his story and his thoughts or manifesto on learning. I was inspired by this book. Sal started out tutoring one student–his cousin Nadia and before he knew it he was spending his spare time tutoring more family members. He was very good at it. And from there his teaching starts to spread, his ideas start to catch on and now he is on a mission to create a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. 

I could relate to Nada’s issue. She had missed one important concept and that put her on a lesser school track. When I was a freshman in high school in my first Algebra class–maybe I was talking…maybe I was sleeping… but I missed something important. That semester I received my first ever D! My teacher told my mother I was lazy and she needed to take my television and music away from me. (I knew the woman hated me! And yeah I was probably too busy talking.) From then on I was put in the more basic math–not the college prep and I had to repeat the semester in order to change my grade for college transcripts. The next semester when I took the class, I took the textbook and studied on my own. Then it clicked and I spent the rest of semester doing my homework during lectures. This time I received an A. 

And I do owe a big apology to my older brother the engineer who didn’t talk alot in class and studied harder. He actually tried to sit down and teach Khan-style concepts before I received my D. At the time I just wanted to learn how to do my homework, I didn’t want to learn the concepts he attempted teach me. C’mon I had Brady Brunch re-runs to watch! Luckily he seems to have had a better student in my niece. 

I like what Salman has to say about learning–covering the basics and practicing until you can prove you’ve got it to move on, and to also move at your own speed. Okay–you got me. The guy speaks my language. After all my career has been all about learning–first in creating how-to technology books to self-paced elearning, ILT courseware to certs and now in online video training. Not ironically, a career that has also called on my “talking” skills so there Algebra teacher! Technology loves self-learners and there is plenty to learn. This book did make me think about what concepts are basic and essential for the business technology subjects I cover.

I’ve also spent a lot of time on Khan Academy the past few days. I always regretted that I never really made it past basic Algebra and Geometry. I thought it was because I hated math, but the fact is I’ve loved puzzles. I’ve done quilting which requires a lot of math. And I use data analysis and statistics regularly to uncover business insights. So I’m going back to the basics–starting at the beginning just like Salman Khan suggests (and how can you not respect someone that Bill Gates says is his favorite teacher!). His site also has Science, Art History and more. Stuff I want to learn. 

Check out his book and the Khan Academy site.