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Learning at its Best

I learn for a living!

Recently, a blogger friend commented on my personal blog: “It is hard to imagine myself as a once great curious and academically thriving student!”

When I read that I had hard time thinking of a meaningful answer, but I think I have one after attending yesterday!

Bunch of educators gathered together to discuss various topics, among which, obviously, one theme took a major spot — education change. I found one session very interesting as we got to discuss how to assess learning and we all unanimously agreed we shouldn’t do that with letter grades, or any scales for that matter! You see, once we get measured against an arbitrary scale, the marks become the goal. When we move on with our life and the scale is long gone, it is hard to figure out if we’re successful or not. We’ve become dependent on an “expert” measuring us and we never built the self-confidence we need to trust our instincts.

So when my friend says she can’t imagine herself as the once academically thriving student, that to me sounds like longing for the scale, not the learning. Once we realize the scale was wrong, set-up in an arbitrary way by self-proclaimed experts — or worse in the education system, by a bureaucracy that long-lost its personal face as it became so big it took a life on its own — we’re free to move on and look up to the future where the learning is the goal and the world around us, the connections we make, the stories we share, the ideas we listen to, is the classroom.

During Edcamp Vancouver, many people asked me what I do for a living. My response was always “I work in software”. On the way back home my head was still buzzing from all the things I heard at the conference, but one question kept coming — is my career really what I do for a living? I realized at the time, what I really do for a living is LEARNING! (Maybe it was all the learning I did in the bus as I was sitting across two girls talking about the benefits of plastic surgery and the abundance of cheap surgeons in Mexico that can do wonders with the extra fat from the bottom … and not for girls only — who new!)

You see, when I saw learning as the way of leading my life, I realized my previous view “I work in software” is a different representation of the same basic problem of using a scale to measure ones success, worth, knowledge… Saying “I work in software” is really not so different from saying “I am an A-grade student” as one’s career ultimately determines one’s opportunity to earn monies and feel successful on yet another scale — economic status, which for the society we live in is the ultimate scale, just like for the schools the letter or percent grades are the ultimate measure of knowledge.

The trick is, neither knowledge, nor monies and career define the life I may lead in my future. They may be some kind of snapshot of my state today and as such provide some summative view over my life in the past, but have little power to predict my future. This is best seen in crisis, whether imposed on me, like economic busts or natural disasters, or consciously chosen, like immigration. In those cases, it is the learning that I do today (and every day!) that will determine my life in the future.

To accept learning as the way to live our life, we may need to stop measuring it! Once we put a scale on it, it collapses to be something else — a grade, career, a bank account balance, the number of rooms in our house… When we see learning for what it truly is — a tool for life — failing to imagine ourselves be at the top of some arbitrary scale we were measured against in the past would have little effect on us doing something we are passionate about in the future.

As for my friend, she’s already doing what she’s passionate about — writing, and being good at that (oops, there goes another scale!) — so I am sure the loss of the academically thriving student would be no impediment to keep her passion alive!

About kima

Organizer: Father. Agent of change. I learn for a living. Curiosity is my passion. Writing is my dream. I believe in the value of social media as a way to meet new people and love double espresso as a way to feel warm with old friends ;-)


18 thoughts on “I learn for a living!

  1. Skelly, Love the post. You know I am one of your biggest fans in San Antonio. Yes, I know you have quite a number of fan in this city. 🙂 Your passion for learning just oozes from every one of your posts. You’ve get it young lady: Life is Learning and Learning is Life!

    Posted by Rich Cantrell | April 18, 2011, 5:22 am
  2. Thanks for all the wishes Kima! I love the idea of a once existing “arbitrary” scale in my life.. Ha ha, I still however do my own analysis of any situation.. “What is my performance on a scale of 0 to 10..??” Hmmm, looks like I am not doing myself any good 😀
    Jokes apart, I feel that a certain measurement, not in the excess of what I was thinking – about me in the past and now and worrying too much about it.. – but something should exist if one does not want to be mediocre.. Any lack of a scale might make one perform not to their full capacity.. ?? What do you say?
    I don’t know, I am just writing down my thoughts.. 🙂
    AND please reply when you get a chance, I know you are trying to get settled down, no worries!

    Posted by Heart | April 18, 2011, 6:18 am
    • Hey Rachana,

      your thoughts are addressing something very important when it comes to assessing learning … the difference between assessment (as done by someone unto you) and self-assessment (as done by you) … I came to believe scales are bad for learning when someone is assessing you in their role as a teacher, mentor, coach, manager, supervisor … I am not sure if trying to use a scale when doing self-assessment is valuable — I would venture to guess not, but at least they may not be as harmful, though I haven’t really put a lot of thought in this to tell … maybe self-assessment is helpful in building confidence? … however, self-reflection as opposed to self-assessment to me is an awesome tool for learning — learning about yourself!

      And no, you’re not just writing down your thoughts — you’re inviting me in your learning so we learn together … you see, we can all be Chief Executive Learners in our own lives! 😉

      Posted by kima | April 19, 2011, 1:10 am
      • Ha, thanks Kima, I like the idea of reflection rather than assessment or critique.. I will try not to be too self critical from now.. Reflection, reflection..
        Reflection is the new word.. 🙂

        Posted by Heart | April 19, 2011, 10:05 am
  3. “I learn for a living!” This sounds like the new COOP t-shirt. I love it. Thanks for suggesting what I’m going to say next time I’m asked!


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | April 18, 2011, 9:13 am
    • I like the t-shirt idea!

      Posted by Adam Burk | April 18, 2011, 5:40 pm
    • Thanks for the encouraging words of support Kirsten … and for correcting my grammar! … yet another example of learning when one is not afraid to be open to feedback! 😉

      I wish I could’ve joined you at the upcoming IDEA tour in Oregon — and wear such a T-shirt! — but unfortunately I can’t afford to take days off from work as I just made a transition to a new job few weeks ago … have fun during the tour and feel free to use “I learn for a living” when asked, especially by students or parents! 😉

      Posted by kima | April 19, 2011, 1:14 am
  4. Kima, Tweeted by Shelly Posted by Kima I still feel the same. Wonderful article! I need to slow down during my morning blog reading. @rcantrell

    Posted by Rich Cantrell | April 18, 2011, 10:20 am
    • Thanks for the great words of support Rich!! … I love it when you say that “Life is Learning and Learning is Life!” … in my opinion, the capacity for learning is the defining feature of us humans that led us to evolve into what we are today … which is why it pains me when we advertise compliance, memorization, and test scores in our schools or look at all young people based on age expectations rather than passion and skills 😦

      Posted by kima | April 19, 2011, 1:20 am
  5. I loved the idea behind this article and the motto! I’m copying it too and will start reading this blog.

    Posted by Anna Varna | April 18, 2011, 5:18 pm
    • Thank you so much Anna … it would be an honor if you copy the motto and use it as your own!

      One of the best moments when writing or sharing my thoughts and ideas are those when I manage to inspire someone else … no scale can measure that! … and your comment inspires me to continue writing and sharing in return! 😉

      Posted by kima | April 19, 2011, 1:23 am
  6. Great read, as usual. I’ve been having similar thoughts lately while working through a personal crisis, trying to identify what I want both in the short and long term. The answer continues to resolve around a life of learning.

    Posted by Kevin | April 19, 2011, 1:45 am
  7. “We learn for a living” should be the tag line under the sign of the entrepreneurial school you found, Kima 🙂

    Regarding learning, what’s are healthy roles for scale and external mentorship in mastering new learning?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 20, 2011, 7:13 pm
    • I thought a lot about your comment Chad — which is one reason I didn’t reply right away. I don’t think I have a good answer to your question, but I think there may be room for some kind of qualitative as opposed to quantitative scales in mastering new learning.

      I’d like to consider an example where you’re asked to pick up a new skill at work and no one in your team can help you. You scramble and start learning and applying your new learning. After a while some results are taking shape. It feels like you’re successful and feel at ease in applying your new skills.

      This is where I can see a value in bringing a qualitative scale by bringing an external mentor in the form of a coach that walks you through some examples where the skill in question has been used by others to produce varying results. Looking at those results lets you place your skill level in perspective and could give you ideas for improvement.

      If you’re the kind that easily enters a complacent mode where you’re happy with what you know and do, this kind of approach could help you get out of that mode and learn again. Crucially, though, the scale should be kept out in those early days when you’re left on your own devices to learn without having a mark on the wall to reach.

      Do you think this makes sense?

      Posted by kima | April 26, 2011, 3:17 am
      • I think some descriptive and/or qualitative mentorship and modeling really helps me get a handle on new protocol-based learning, such as programming (jn my novice Scratch and Process way). Sometimes, getting a mechanical view of new learning helps enable creative problem-solving wit it later one – thanks for the thoughtful response, Kima – it makes sense to me.


        Posted by Chad Sansing | April 26, 2011, 10:23 am


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