Education reflection 1 — successful and unsuccessful learning experiences

This post is part of the reflection series I’ll make on the topic of Education, related to the Coursera online course What Future for Education.

When I think of a successful learning experience I had, the first thing that comes to my mind are my piano lessons. I consider them to be particularly successful because I managed to reach a level of readiness to apply for a high school of music, although the classes were meant for non-professionals. I had this feeling of improvement during all of the years and I was motivated and happy with my achievements.

Another totally different experience were my German classes. I took them during high-school, it was a compulsory subject, and although I was eager to learn the language, I spent 5 years with almost no visible results — after some self assessment I found myself at level A1 after those years.

If I have to compare these two experiences, they really differ a lot. My piano lessons were one-on-one, happening twice each week with a lot of exercises between the lessons. My teacher used to write in a notebook what I have to exercise specifically after each lesson, so I always had homework. My teacher sent me to a lot of competitions, so I had short-term goals. I listened to some of the best piano players playing the same pieces, so I also had a long-term vision. We didn’t have a fixed curriculum, but instead the teacher gave me harder and harder material to play as my skills improved.

On the other hand my German classes were spent in a class of 30 people. For the 5 years of studying we went through 4 teachers and we used the same textbook during all the years (we kept repeating the same lessons over and over again). It was a really demotivational experience, with almost no sense of fulfillment. During the 4th year one of our teachers even gave us a test with the request to do it as badly as possible, so that she had proof of our low level of achievements. This, in turn, could serve to prove that we had to start all over again with the most basic lessons. Two of our teachers were of a very old age and were demotivated to work with us. They both didn’t give us any homeworks or exercises, only some texts to read and memorize.

This leads me to the conclusion that for me to learn effectively I need a lot of practical exercises, small stepping stones (to achieve a sense of fulfillment) and some attention from my teacher. My preferred way to learn is learn by doing, with a lot of interaction with the teacher and in a self-paced manner.

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