Overcoming barriers to learning

You are ready to learn, feeling relaxed and alert. You have decided where you want to learn and have organized your learning environment. But, somehow you never seem to get round to it—learning that new computer program, working out how to tile your bathroom, finding out why your tomato plants produce fruit that never ripen. What's the problem? Your mind is receptive but still not turned on.

As with horses, so with learners. You can take us to water but you cannot make us drink. As US academic Chris Argyris puts it: "No one can develop anyone else apart from himself. The door to development is locked from inside."

This is the conundrum of being motivated to learn. Once you have left school or college, all of life's conflicting demands press down on you. There are many barriers to prevent you from engaging in learning. Here are some of the common ones, with suggestions of how you can overcome them.

♦ I haven't got enough time. If it is important, then you have to make time for it! Set aside small but regular amounts of time to fit in with your other commitments and think about giving yourself whole days or weekends devoted to something you are keen to learn. Use the life planning activity in Chapter 12.

♦ I can't get the kind of learning I want near where I live or work. This may be true at first sight, but think more laterally. Can you get it online? Have you really investigated what is available? You need to search a long way beyond the training department of the organization for which you work. In the UK there is a free national helpline, Learndirect on 0800 100900, and other countries have similar ideas. Or try talking to your colleagues and friends about what you want to do and see what creative ideas they come up with. Rather than going on a customer care course, for example, why not go and see how another organization not in your line of work does it?

♦ What's on offer does not fit with the way I like to learn. The way you like learning is a helpful first approach when searching for what you want, but will be very limiting if you use it as an excuse for not try ing something different! The point about understanding your preferred learning style is that you may want to learn to use and even enjoy other approaches. Nevertheless, saying that you want an active or informal or practical or academic type of learning may also be helpful to you in finding someone who can give you what you want.

♦ I associate learning with school: being talked at and sitting in rows. You are not alone. I have met men and women in their sixties whose school days were certainly not the happiest of their life! The good news is that much of the learning you might choose to do today is not like the school experience you may remember.

♦ Learning really turns me off. Learning does not have a good image for some people because in their mind they connect the word with education or training, things they are told to do, sometimes against their will. In fact, most of us associate the word learning with discovery and searching out our hidden talents. However, it may well be that you do have to overcome a mental barrier to get started.

♦ Where I work learning is frowned on. In too many schools, homes, and workplaces it is not cool to be smart or to learn. This is so despite our love of game shows, quiz games, pub quizzes, and crossword puzzles the world over. While there are cultural variations in this depending on where you live, it may be that you have to accept that not all of your friends or colleagues will immediately see why you are choosing to learn something. You can look forward to telling them about how much you have got from your learning at a later stage.

♦ My other responsibilities mean that much as I'd like to, I couldn't commit myself to a course. You may well have real issues to work through. Childcare and family or other care responsibilities are good examples of these. The first step is to decide what it is that you want to do and then work through the options for how you can get help in discharging your other duties to your satisfaction. You certainly won't be in a fit emotional state if you are worrying about someone you care for rather then concentrating on your learning.

♦ I didn't realize that "doing it yourself" was learning. You learn so much without realizing that you are doing so. In a typical day, you may pick up many different tips, learn a new skill, do something in your garden or in the community—all these are learning. Often the

Power Up Your Mind informal learning is the most valuable and the most real. Congratulate yourself on everything you are already learning.

♦ I am afraid it might change things. Learning is powerful stuff! You will almost inevitably be changed by what you learn. It is best to be honest about this possibility and try to share your thoughts and feelings openly. My wife started to learn the piano recently after being told as a child that she was no good at music. She is doing very well. At one level you could say that all she has done is to begin to acquire a new skill. In fact, her success in learning has changed her, boosting her confidence as a learner and releasing a musical talent she had been told she did not have.

♦ I am too old to learn. However old you are, this isn't true. While you may have heard the slogan "Use it or lose it," what we know about our brains does not support this. It is true that your brain cells gradually die off as you get older, but what is more important is that even with only half your brain cells intact, you have more neural capacity than you need. It is true that if you don't seek actively to use your brain you may get a little "rusty," but this is really about the patterns of connections between your brain cells rather than the number of cells. It is common sense that if you stop using or practicing a skill you will be a little slower. More positively, there is growing evidence that learning makes you healthier in later years. Some doctors in the UK have even begun prescribing learning rather than drugs, with very encouraging results!

♦ I couldn't possibly expose myself in front of my boss or those who work for me. A fear of failure or lack of success is the reason that some very senior executives find it difficult to accept the challenge to learn to be different, and help explain why coaching and mentoring are such important activities. The same reason can be equally powerful for those in less senior positions. Nine times out of ten, however, those around you end up admiring your determination to see something through, even if they do not immediately give you that impression.

♦ I am no good at learning and I'll be humiliated in front of other people. This fear is present to some degree in almost all of us. You were born able to learn. You have done it naturally throughout your life. This book is trying to help you rekindle your appetite for learning. Mentally rehearsing what you are going to do will help, as will equipping yourself with positive statements to use in the event of comments from others.

For all of these examples, it may be helpful to remember that you are learning all the time, you just may not be aware of it. You learn about the way your boss likes to do things by watching. You pick up ways of resolving a conflict by listening to a skilled friend, for example.

Sometimes it is helpful to think back over the last week and try to be more aware of the things that you have learned.

How many of these barriers do you recognize in your life? Think of occasions when you have A come up against a similar barrier and remember how you overcame it.

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave several of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and check off items on our to-do list by each day’s end seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us.

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