When I was in high school, I was very fortunate to have a science and math teacher who was a retired computer programmer for the aerospace industry. Mr. Bryant W. Saxon taught me to solve problems, not memorize formulae. Every six weeks, he gave us exams consisting of math problems, like the solution to the quadratic equation, before he introduced the term, much less the solution. For grading (1-10 points), he gave us one point for the correct answer, the other nine points for the solution process. He gave the highest points to students whose solution was one he had not derived.
Mr. Saxon taught me to think for myself and solve problems, not to memorize or follow the instructions step-by-step. (I still resist reading computer manuals even today.) "Computers will change the way you work and think, " he said. We had never even seen a computer in East Texas! Mr. Saxon was very eccentric for a small town like Tyler in 1959. Needless to say, I didn't have many teachers like him who understood anything about how the human mind works. Mr. Saxon began each class by drawing a circle on the blackboard, I suppose, to "center" his mind/body. Mr. Saxon managed to exercise both sides of OUR brains!
It is not the scope of this article to explain the intuitive process (i. e., synthesis, insight, Grok) in depth, but I wanted to share some personal experience of my process in understanding how to deal with learning new media technologies. (See the Reading List for other resources.)
Psychologists today do know much more about intuition. First of all, women are not the only ones who have the capability. All of us as children wouldn't be able to cope at all if we didn't have the ability to absorb enormous amounts of information and make some sense of it. We learn to walk and talk very early in life without having to memorize lists of objects. Somewhere along our life path, many of us forget how to apply our full intelligence to our tasks. Some of us don't.
Well, the future my mentor spoke of has arrived! The personal computer and the Internet have finally penetrated even our conventional small towns, confronting us with more information than we can begin to memorize or throw rocks at. By the time we understand something enough to get any work done, things change!
There is too much information to input at the speed we've been taught in public school. We must learn to use both sides of our brain to be literate in the Information Age. It's what you understand, not what facts you know. And, by the way, Fortune 500 companies are headhunting and paying big bucks for people with the ability to "solve problems."
In 1984, when I decided to learn computers, I bought an Apple IIe and plunged into it. I figured it was just another electronic thing like a video camera. Later when I heard about the Internet, I dutifully read tons of books and magazines, thinking I could figure it out. But when I finally got "online" and got my hands and eyes and mind involved in the medium, I realized that I had not really understood anything about it. I had to get my hands, eyes, and curiosity "online" with the mind of a child. It was just like driving a car, I had to get a "feel" for it.
Software and hardware designers today are making the user interface, they say, "more intuitive" for the consumer -- spending billions of dollars in graphic design -- because they know that this approach not only works but may be the only way we are going to learn it, and therefore, buy it!
As a professional in any field, you are seriously disadvantaged if you are not adept at telephony, voice mail, computerized word-processing and accounting, clean graphic printing, faxing and email distribution, Internet access, and Web presence.
So, how does anyone learn to use computers and software? My advice: Buy or borrow a computer, pickup the mouse, lay your hands on the keyboard and just do it! Immerse yourself and learn with all your capabilities, not just your left brain.
In the past millenium, all that was known about a subject could be found written in a few specialized books. A student with discipline and persistence could absorb most all of the precedent wisdom in a life time. An exceptional student could have enough time to process and contribute additional information to the subject. The path was well traveled and defined. The end was finite. Travelers knew where the frontier was because the maps of the territory clearly said, "where no one has gone before."
Institutions of learning, universities and laboratories, defined this path with curriculum and certification. Information was finite and the institutions could maintain their authority and control of the territory. We believed we knew what we knew and had a good idea of what we didn't know. We knew what questions to ask: sequentially, the next unknown. With belief in sequential reasoning and determinismthat the world was mechanistic and predictablewe had faith in a path of knowledge and learning.
Obviously, things have changed. Information is not finite. All that there is to know about a subject is infinite. We can't absorb it all in any given time period, certainly not in one person's life time. There is no one path for any subject. There are no single subjects!
Our task, as communications professionals, is to cope with this changing paradigm of knowledge, learning, and competency. Simply, we have to "learn to learn" in sync with the way the world is now. That's what education should be about. We can't predict the future. We must create the future or risk being its victim.