learning to learn
I've taken 130 credits with the OU in the last eighteen months. But I'm only now starting to get a grip on how to study. Starting.
It's true that in the beginning I had to juggle a young child at home for at least half the school day, and it was hard to work on anything in the evenings because the house was so loud and everybody was all, 'Mum...?' I couldn't stay awake at night, or get up early in the morning due to aforementioned child climbing in the bed in the middle of the night and refusing to stay asleep unless I was there. OK. The first year was tricky for its own reasons, but the science side of the coursework wasn't very difficult so I half-assed a way through.
The kids are now all in school for six hours, and even when they're home I can usually grab some time without worrying what mischief they're up to. I can stay up late. I get a solid 7 or 8 hours of sleep most nights, which means that by day I'm operating with full faculties. All of this is recent.
And what have I realised? I don't have a clue how to study. I have a Master of Arts in Education, and I managed that while student-teaching more or less full-time and commuting, so it wasn't exactly a walk in the park. I remember doing a lot of reading, writing papers, going to seminars. I think I expected some of the skills and habits I picked up back then to cross over into the work I'm doing now.
They don't. They really don't. Right now I'm trying to get ahead in the big physics course that starts in October. I'm working through the first text, doing all the problems, going online to find some supplementary problems, sometimes watching MIT lectures, and working through old assignments to get really familiar with the principles and their equations. What I'm finding is that I can do this and move on to the next section, and when I come back I've only retained a fraction of what I thought I had understood. So everything has to be gone over again. And sometimes a third time.
I never experienced anything like this in the humanities. Usually I can read something, pick up what I need, work with it, and move on. I might take notes and refer to them, but I never actually had to re-read an entire book or go outside the curriculum materials to understand a concept. What's going on now--and it happens with math, too--is much more about attacking a topic repetitively and from different angles, and it really is burning up a lot of time and energy.
I wonder if it's a processing-speed thing. I'm a fairly fast reader, and writing has always come pretty easily, so maybe I just don't know what hard work feels like because I've never done it (novels are qualitatively different, btw). Maybe I never did a program that was challenging enough to put me on my toes. That makes me sound like such a slacker! (Or is that just part of the typical novelist's job description? Slacker in all other areas. We'll draw a veil over those novelists who are also PhDs, lawyers, doctors, etc so as not to spoil this convenient assertion).
The process of learning how to learn is interesting. I mean, yeah, I'm a little discouraged at how slow my progress can be--I haven't even got into the meat of the subject yet, after all--but mostly it's illuminating and challenging to be stretched like this and feel unequal to the task. It's fun to try out different approaches and see what works best.
We'll see how long I think it's fun before I actually keel over...