Wednesday, December 30, 2015

“Throw away thy books!”

That’s what the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 to 180 AD) wrote in his “Meditations” (167 AD).  His advice couldn't be more appropriate and valid today than it was back then, for one reason, which Marcus Aurelius couldn't have possibly envisioned at the time.

Going online gives you access to vast knowledge resources which didn't exist until a short time ago.  Today via online, the world is at your fingertips, or if you prefer, you can talk with Siri or Cortana, your personal digital assistant, to bring you to different sites to look for lectures, books, movies, games, what-have-you.

Yes, why not replace textbooks for learning with online access to the same materials, which, by the way, can be kept up to date much easier that way, all at greatly reduced cost, not to mention the convenience.

Actually, your entire studies can be done online nowadays instead of having to go to a physical location and sit down in a classroom, making sure being on time, having test anxieties and then having to follow the curriculum.  Online lets you work, study, have fun (learning should be fun!) from wherever you happen to be, in your home, in a park under a tree, or with friends who are interested in the same matter.

Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate Degrees can be obtained this way.  They may not have the show-off value of a Harvard, Princeton, MIT or such, institutions which have easy name and value recognition, but they should receive even higher recognition because the online learner did not get kindergarten-like attention and support to do his/her studies, but did so with self determination and dogged persistence, qualities which bode well for people who are going to accomplish things. 

All that is needed to make the online option work are three preconditions, which, by the way, will be helpful in whichever way one is going to pursue learning:  (1) Be able to read and write a language well. (2) Have the motivation and the drive to learn and strive to do whatever it takes to learn.  That’s truly the most important!  (3) Sufficient computer knowledge to make the computer do the legwork of searching, finding, reading, repeating, contacting and communicating with teachers, co-students, friends, the rest of the world, printing out when necessary, and more.  That’s all.  It’s as easy, or as hard, as that.

Paper is becoming a thing of the past, for museums to show how humans in one stage of their development used to store and handle knowledge and information.  The present and future will be almost entirely paperless, making it far easier to carry with you, paperless being easier to access and utilize from anywhere at any time at the right time for you.  Thank you, Marcus Aurelius;  Electronically available to all, via online, a fairer, fuller life ahead!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What does the family have to do with it?

A long time ago, by the Chinese and the ancient Romans, the family was seen as the basic building block for a healthy, intelligent society.  According to Confucius (551 to 479 BC), “the strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”  No doubt about it!  That’s where the education of individuals begins, and, in fact, should never end.  Today more so than ever before.

Particularly in this technology-savvy age, the home is the place where ideally all learning should begin, and flourish, very much including online learning.  The skills using one’s computer, tablet or cell phone, should be learned, imbedded and practiced from early on, just like brushing one’s teeth, for that is an essential requirement for acquiring knowledge, like feeding oneself.  In my humble opinion, the family is the best team to lead by example and help the learner along, instead of leaving it up to a biased and possibly even distorted outside environment to bring the novice into the SMS-texting plus Internet world.

There is nobody more qualified than family that can supply the love, guidance, and support to stir up “the will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential ... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence,” to quote Confucius again.   And today, as well as in the future, this is true to a large extent via computers or computer-like devices.

Therefore, playing computer games is a very good thing, not a vice, because it gives your brain the opportunity for a workout and more.  Which does not mean that it can't be overdone, in case a player loses his/her relationship to time and environment, and just overdoes it,  like taking an overdose of some legitimate drug.  That’s of course sick and harmful to the person,  particularly to the person’s health,  his/her relationships and other responsibilities.  But if so, that should be easy to cure, with returning to reason and pursuing computer use with common sense.

Especially in socialist oriented societies, and very much under Soviet Communism, society developed into a non-family enterprise, where children were turned over to the state or some other outside system to grow up and become classless citizens, uniform members of the homogenous human masses.  But as we all know, and as the Soviet empire demonstrated, that model self-destructs  although modern socialists of all stripes, even in strong capitalist countries, are still trying to do the same thing the same way, hoping that the outcome will be a less competitive, less differentiated society.  That’s one reason why children often get farmed out to nursery schools as early as possible and kept in school as long as possible to learn and grow up together with their non-family peers. The peers that these children grow up with will be the ones they are working with later-on in life, playing, being friends with, maybe marry, and so on.

Well, there is a lot that gets lost by making the family just the children-production and paying-for-them-thereafter department.  The most valuable component, the personal human connection gets weakened, often substantially, or even totally lost in the process.  It converts the involved human, or humans,  into something like a machine, mostly a somewhat emotionally deprived automaton, with a greatly reduced capacity for feelings, understanding and reasoning. Eventually the human is even incapable of just pursuing thoughts or ideas for the mere fun of it.

Obviously that’s not the state we want our children or ourselves to end up in.  So the answer to the question is, yes, the family has everything to do with it.  This is why we need to have healthy, well functioning families in the first place.  That’s where true learning needs to begin, and ideally can go on lifelong.  As I learned in Asia:  “Stay home and cook rice” is to say that the real action starts in the family.  Looking anywhere else for what only your family can provide, and provide better than anyone else, is going to be a disappointing search for utopia. Although that seems to be the general practice worldwide at this stage of human development.  Therefore to end with my friend Confucius again:

"The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Learn how, what?

Have you ever heard of or maybe even remember the popular children's books of “Dr. Seuss,” aka Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) who wrote:  “It is better to know how to learn than to know”?

Dr. Seuss made this profound statement way before the time of “How Technology Should be Used in the Classroom,” because this was long before the computer age ever began.  It clearly states what learning is all about, which is important to remember in respect to all learning, whether it was in antiquity or is now in the most advanced technological age.  It  also, applies to the entire format of how society supplies education, so far mostly through person-to-person teaching in classrooms.  But with the introduction of technology in and outside the classroom the modus is changing dramatically, in some instances.

Therefore, I think it’s high time to closely look at what really needs to be learned, and how the vast volume of knowledge we’d like to have and use, can best be acquired.  Here is the way:

What one really needs to learn and retain, in one way or the other, are three things:

Language, no matter which one in particular, but preferably one which does provide access to that vast volume of knowledge we want to acquire.  The point here is that one needs to learn one’s language well, preferably very well, which mostly can be one’s mother tongue, yet one must be able to really fully understand, speak, read and write it correctly.  In most instances this process takes place already in the family, and is person-to-person, maybe via outside teachers starting early-on in life also.  For some souls, though, they are learning language by default, by just growing up in an environment of that language, and somehow acquire some reading ability with only limited writing skills.  That’s for sure not enough, not satisfying the basic requirement of learning to be able to study and learn.  Just to function in this technology dominated world demands the thorough knowledge of language, in reading, writing, and use. 

Which brings me to the most important element required for learning:  the self-motivation to learn.  MOTIVATION needs to be there, mostly inborn in us, but not so much developed by some.  The latter are the ones who may wish to learn something, say a foreign language for example, or start attending an online course on computer science. However, they then drop out sooner or later because they really don't WANT to learn, but think that the skill or knowledge they’d like to acquire will somehow be poured into them without effort on their part.  Of course that’s not how it works.  There needs to be strong will and determination to learn on the part of the student.  Without this determination, not much is going to happen, regardless of how colorful, lively, or interesting the subject being taught might be.  Therefore, self-motivation to learn needs to be built-in, or developed, preferably already by the family, to create the right precondition for true learning to take place.

How to operate a computer, which could be a cell phone, tablet, laptop, etc.  But acquiring the knowledge and skills for working with a computer are an absolute must for enabling study and learning almost anything in the 21st century.

Once these three preconditions are met, anyone is ready to acquire knowledge with ease, regardless which method is going to be used.  We know, of course, that the old school and classroom model works.  It merely takes time and money, in many instances lots and lots of both.  Yet the same knowledge and much more is available online, and often can be absorbed and dealt with at one’s own pace and availability of time, mostly for far less money, even for free.  The blessing for us living in this century is that the world and all its knowledge is laid out before us electronically, for us to learn about, study, come back to when we want to, enjoy, and enrich our lives, all being accessible via computer and the Internet.

With Online access, why remember anything when you can look it up?  Yes, why use a large part of the Random Access Memory in your brain for storage of episodic memory instead of semantic and procedural, in other words why make your brain into a hard drive?  Using a maximum of your brain cells or RAM for playing games or doing mental acrobatics in a favorite subject is not only much easier, but also far more effective in reaching results, not to mention sheer satisfaction.  By adopting the three main requirements above, without which knowledge will be very hard work to acquire, or worse, almost impossible to make stick. Yet  access online information can open doors which were hard to open before and makes knowledge not only accessible, but also retrievable whenever needed.  Therefore my advice is to really practice and maintain (a)(b)(c) well, and you’ll acquire and use whatever knowledge there is easily, as a matter of fact as a very enjoyable and rewarding experience, Online!