Different ways to learn

According to American journalist Megan McArdle in her book The Up Side of Down, there are two types of learners: growth learners and fixed learners.

Quite simply, a growth learner is someone that accepts difficulty and prospers despite failure.

A fixed learner has been conditioned to believe that knowledge is set, that you are either capable or incapable, gifted or cursed, in the face of challenges.

Both rely on chosen mindsets and it is possible for learners to migrate to different categories circumstantially.

For instance, I always used to consider myself technologically illiterate.

When it came to navigating through standard computer software, I constantly preferred sticking to the usual, ‘fixed’ excuse: computers and I don’t get along.

Sometimes I went as far as believing that there was some pre-existing curse between me and tech — a reason why I once accidentally deleted the The Cord’s Dropbox account containing a week’s content.

I allowed myself to fall into an inflexible mindset, obscuring the potential of learning and leaving me completely incompetent with standard computer tools. That all changed when I started taking the advanced video editing course this semester.

At this point, my passion for videography outweighed my fear of failure. My desire to gain the usable skills to supplement my writing kept me fighting through every technical frustration — and believe me, there were a lot.

Learning to conduct node compositions and navigating a virtual camera through a 3D virtualized space on a special effects software known as Blackmagic: Fusion 8, is something I’d never think possible for me.

Eventually, I realized that once I push through the ridicule of failure, once I ignore the countless hours of what seems to be a stagnant waste of time, once I turn off the fixed ideals of this being out of my element, things start to click.

Apparently, no matter the challenge, our brains are capable of learning. Fixed learners could become growth learners with the right dose of determination. It just might require a little more work.   

If someone says from an early age “I’m terrible at math,” that person won’t be a mathematical physicist anytime soon.

But if someone accepts the possibility of improvement, development suddenly becomes possible; growth becomes granted.

McArdle also went on to explain a concept dubbed “self-handicapping” while learning. This defines those who assume failure because of a fixed mindset and therefore set themselves up for disaster in order to attribute their lack of success to something else besides their ability.

Self-handicapping is the easy solution for escaping fears that fixed learners are taunted by: the possibility that they don’t have what it takes.

Students are so afraid of not being as smart as they believe they can be, that they’d rather set themselves up for failure than admit they aren’t innately brilliant.

If they do end up passing the upcoming exam, they could always say they would’ve done better had they just studied more.

It’s a defence mechanism that keeps their views of themselves in check and avoids the threat of failure in their innate abilities.

University students are conditioned to see learning in different ways. Our grading system represents our performance. But our failures don’t need to prohibit our progression.

When it comes to acquiring knowledge, accepting that the possibilities are endless, that our minds are not limited by capability, that nothing needs to be out of bounds, will bring us to new heights of achievement, removing the blindfolds that keep us cozily on our asses.

Accepting that we can fail, that we must fail, is essential for unlocking our potential.

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