Earlier this week I wrote about developing learning activities for yourself that fully engage your senses. I want to share an experience from my past when I was able to do just that. It’s one example of how self-directed learning has had a big impact on my life.
It was during my undergraduate years at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. It was the second half of my sophomore year, and I was getting jazzed about an entire year that I was going to spend studying abroad in Ecuador starting that summer.
I had taken a few years of Spanish in high school and one class each semester while in college, so I had a decent base in the language, but I knew that I wanted to go into that year as strong as possible so I could get the most out of the experience.
I had that goal in the back of my mind when I saw a poster on campus advertising the student-run radio station, which was broadcast solely online. That prompted this thought: if we’re doing that here, it’s probably going on all over the world.
All it took was a quick Google search to confirm, and in no time I was able to find a station broadcasting from Quito, Ecuador (the city in which I would be studying) and streaming online.
For the rest of that semester I spent time almost every day listening to that station during my down time in between classes or at night, trying to pick out as many words as I could and training my ear to recognize the language patterns that at that point were still foreign to me.
Sometimes I would even keep the radio going in the background while I slept, hoping that the language would seep into my dreams while I slept.
No teacher told me to do that. It was not an assignment for any class. I was excited about it partially for that reason – that I myself had come up with it. And it prepared me for my trip in a way that no classroom assignment could.
I’m telling this story because I believe that the learning opportunities that we can get the most excited about are the ones that we create for ourselves, ones that are tailored to our own personalities and our specific goals. That’s part of what I was trying to get at in the post from earlier this week.
Teachers often do their best to provide activities that a large number of students can get excited about, but there is no way they can consistently get everyone in the room engaged.
But when you create your own learning activities you can tailor those activities specifically to your personality and your goals, and adjust the experience along the way if need be, because you are running the show.
When I arrived in Ecuador that summer, I was happy to find that I could understand about 80% of what was coming at me. Speaking, however, was a different story – that took much longer. But the hours I spent listening to internet radio broadcast from thousands of miles away had paid off.
Now it’s your turn. Think back to a time when you created a learning activity for yourself that paid big dividends. What did you do, and how did it feel? If nothing comes to mind, try creating an activity that you can carry out this week. And let us know how it goes.
Photo Credit: Arun Venkatesan