I had such a good experience in my Hyperlinked Libraries MOOC that I decided to sign up for a MOOC offered by Duke University and Coursera called “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”. We started this week and I am enjoying it so far. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two. I don’t feel as connected to my classmates as I did in Hyperlinked, I think because the web platform is less customized. The video lectures in Hyperlinked were great but very informal, whereas the videos in Week One of History have a high production value and feel like an intimate lesson from a great mind rather than a conversation between like-minded professionals. They are both valuable experiences!
Our assignment this week was 500 words on “What is one thing–a pattern, habit, behavior–you have had to “unlearn” in your life in order to be able to learn something new? Please write a 500-word essay about what it was you had to unlearn, any challenges you encountered, and any successes you experienced.”
Here’s my response in full:
The majority of our early learning takes place in formal settings (like public schools) where we are taught based on the principle of right and wrong, of success and failure. This may be shifting, but when I began Kindergarten in 1989 we spent a lot of time being ranked and graded on our successes and failures. I was fortunate that I was a fast learner with a deep and easily retrieved memory, and I coasted through my K12 career with very little failure.
I picked a fairly selective college and set out with the (lack of) studying skills and habits I’d developed for a right/wrong world. I was quickly faced with a new reality, one in which there weren’t always right answers and where failure became something I had to face. I hear similar stories from other “smart kids” who arrived on college campuses with little practice in studying beyond easy memorization of concepts. I couldn’t handle the academic failures I experienced in that first semester, and eventually withdrew from school in the early Spring semester to regroup.
I started anew in the Fall at a community college where there was less pressure to succeed. I figured out how to study in a way that prepared me for deeper learning, and discovered how to use failure as a litmus test for my learning. Failure was not the end of the road anymore, it became a valuable tool for reflection. The skills I developed at community college helped me earn a 4.0 in my two years at a university without much stress or failure. Unfortunately, the message I’d internalized about failure didn’t stick as I made my first foray into the job market in a difficult academic environment.
I had to settle for a job as a customer service representative where my job performance was very much a success/fail endeavor with little room for growth, improvement or deep critical thinking skills. I eventually moved on to a job in my major and quickly realized I had chosen poorly. I again had to re-frame my learned notion of failure as being defeat to failure as being a learning opportunity. I took time to evaluate my academic career and look for a way to do what I loved as an undergraduate. This led me to earning a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science and my current role as an academic librarian.
Graduate school was more difficult than any other academic experience I’d had, but I was able to find a level of success with which I was comfortable. I didn’t have too much trouble finding a job, and have used the small failures I encounter during my job performance as opportunities to hone my weaknesses and become a better librarian. Unlearning what failure meant has been key to my motivation to constantly be learning and improving in my professional and personal life.