Monday, October 14, 2013

Learning daze versus learning days

I've had a pretty intense two weeks on the learning and development front.  I got the chance to co-facilitate a quarterly leadership forum at work, and I was hopeful, excited, and a little terrified at the prospect of leading a discussion on motivation and performance for our UK managers and leaders.  I had prepared, and I feel like I (at least) try to live and breathe the philosophies we would discuss on the day, but I still worried...would the words come out right?  Would they ask me questions I couldn't answer?  Would sweat stains on my new dress be a giveaway to my nerves?  Those are the sort of thoughts that can sabotage preparation and create anxiety, ones that I used to feel a lot when I was doing more training to our clients.  Fear of looking stupid or not living up to my perfectionist ideals.  In the end all went well, and if at any point I did look stupid, well, I didn't notice it in the audience.  I learned a lot in the process, nobody died as a result of good or bad advice, and I had a sense of accomplishment that left me feeling good and satisfied at my contributions. 

Alongside this event, my massive open online courses (MOOCs) were ticking along in the vast online learning ecosystem.  If I could change one thing about myself, a bad habit so deeply ingrained in me that I consider it in a similar way to my height or eye color, it would be to not be a procrastinator.  Even there in that sentence is the essence of how that force has a hold on me: I don't just procrastinate, I am a procrastinator.  Is there anything more cruel than the ability to torment oneself by continually putting off something until the very last minute, usually resulting in a sub-par performance and a ton of unnecessary anxiety and eventual exhaustion? 

The past weeks have felt like a real throwback to my college days, complete with deadlines, readings that have piled up, late nights and the myriad options that present themselves when faced with a choice to meet, or to avoid, a deadline.  So far, here's my summary of what's changed for me as a "mature learner":

Beverages: Back in the college days, my paper-writing "journeys" often felt like more of a situation created to encourage the purchase and consumption of unhealthy, sugar and caffeine-laden beverages, and convenience store snacks to be consumed between the hours of midnight and 6:00am.  A bit like credit card debt, I feel like I'm sure it took years for me to actually burn off those egg salad sandwiches and Doritos that I feasted on at the Kiewit Computer Center's cubicles as the rest of the more diligent student population slept.  And the drinks - sickly sweet and caffeinated so much that they eventually made my brain twitch with stimulation: flavored coffee from Foodstop, 500ml bottles of ozone green Mountain Dew, blue Gatorade for hydrating effect (never water, how crazy).  Red Bull probably hadn't even been invented yet.  My drink of choice as a mature learner (on study nights) has been red wine, on assignment nights - a nice cup of tea!  How's that for maturity?  Interesting how the college days had alcohol as a distraction, whereas in my latest learning it's integrated into the experience.

Distractions: college days included late-night bike rides around campus in my pyjamas in arctic temperatures (again, anytime between 11:00pm and 6:00am, ostensibly to "clear my head for thinking"); trips to Foodstop to purchase above-referenced caffeinated drinks and sustenance; Jewelbox; maybe a game of pong if I could twist anyone else's arm to join me.  For the mature learner, distractions have included catching up the two Downton Abbey Christmas specials that I missed, and browsing around in the Flickr group of my online self-portraiture course, Now You.  I have refrained from online shopping, and perhaps most remarkably, and mercifully, I have not once engaged in any of the Angry Birds, Bad Piggies, or Where's My Water? apps that I know are on the iPad. 

Deadlines: if there's one thing that has changed the most, it's got to be my attitude toward deadlines.  In college, these dates and times always had an arbitrary feeling to them.  [nb: I should add here, I'm sure that the deadlines were crystal clear, and it was me who applied the arbitrary sentiment to them, much to the angst of my fellow classmates and no doubt, the professors].  Whereas now, there's no messing about with the times you need to get your stuff handed in by!  Because everything has to uploaded, and not printed out and deposited into the professor's office dropbox, every submission will have a time stamp.  Quite remarkably, I submitted a final project for my Foundations of Business Strategy course several hours before the deadline of yesterday, midnight GMT.  And for my Organizational Analysis paper assignment, I submitted it before coming here to the blog - a whole day and a few hours before the deadline!  This last one is perhaps even more remarkable when I explain not just what I had to do, but what I had to avoid in order to get that one done.  The Organizational Analysis class is about applying different models of organizational theories (or is it different theories of organizational models? hmm, not sure now) and for the paper assignment we had to complete a paper that had been started using the massive online game World of Warcraft as the organization to analyze.  When I saw the topic, I am sure my eyes widened as a realized the temptation that lay teasing me from the screen.  You want me to write a paper about a computer game that I have never played before, but that I know I could probably be playing in about 5 minutes if I went and signed up for it?!  And 7 million people play it, but so far I haven't...nor have I even been tempted, until now?!  Sheesh, I could close my eyes and see those colored gem combinations twisting and hurtling down the Jewelbox screen like it was yesterday.  So I had a choice: get into method acting mode, go sign up to World of Warcraft "in the name of research", and write a much better paper because I had a much deeper understanding of the game, or just recognize that it wasn't the detail that mattered but rather the general understanding of how the game works, and get on with writing the paper.  There's no doubt in my mind that College Meg would have done the former, but the older and wiser learner in me applied reason and judgment, and turned to Wikipedia for what I needed to know.  In her Moranthology, Caitlin Moran had an assignment to write a piece about the game, so I knew it would be best if I just didn't go there - her take on it was very funny though. 

Connections: for all the amazing benefits of the online learning community, most of my recent work was done in isolation, save for a few tentative forays into the discussion threads.  The pre-recorded video lectures give me a sense of interaction with the professor, but that part is still one-way.  And here, I arrive at the conclusion that for all the ways in which I've grown as a learner in the 15 years since I started college, there's no substitute for those 4 years I had, and for the friends that I made, people who helped shape me and my experiences as a person, for life.  Although I wasn't always - ok, ever - there to study, I sure did enjoy seeing people in Baker Library.  I could usually find a willing accomplice for late-night fun (up to a certain time in the evening, at least, and no doubt those people had already done their studying).  And there was always a friend who would check up on me if I hadn't yet emerged from a post-all-nighter slumber, and wake me up by dancing on my bed to "Man in the Mirror". 

I heard this line recently from a Dr Seuss work that I wasn't familiar with, but it sure did bring a wry smile to my face:
“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

How did it get so late, so soon...?

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