Passive Learning vs Active, fully engaged Learning – maybe a greater challenge than ever during the great Global Pandemic of 2020

Philip: “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Ethiopian Eunuch:  “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?”
(from Acts 8)


Let’s be honest.  We forget so, so much of what we take in.

Recently, my wife and I were watching a Midsomer Murders episode that we were both sure we had never seen.  About half-way through, we realized; yep, we’ve already seen this one.

I watch Columbo occasionally.  I pretty much have a handful of episodes memorized.  But others, I watch, and I think I saw them years ago, but, I’m not sure. I can’t remember.

I’ve downloaded sample pages of books I have already read, and start reading, and realize – I’ve already read this.  That is so embarrassing.

It takes work to be an engaged viewer, reader, learner.

I can pretty much quote about two TED Talks.  But I’ve seen dozens.  I can tell you practically nothing from many — ok; most — of the ones I’ve seen.

Now, if it’s a tv mystery, it does not matter that I have forgotten them.  After, all, I was first watching Columbo nearly 50 years ago.  That is a long, long time ago.

But, If I go to the trouble of reading a book, especially a nonfiction book that I want to learn from, I need to up my engagement game.  A smart man with great life observations, who also happens to be an actor, that I follow on twitter (@jamespmorrison), observed that there is a difference between reading and studying.  Reading is one thing.  Studying is quite another thing.

How do you read as a student; as a learner?  That’s the challenge.

There are a lot of book summary services and products out there.  I’m sure that all of them are good.  But, if you just watch, or just listen, or just skim – sometimes, to be honest, while “multitasking” – you really won’t remember much, retain much,…learn much.

To learn, you have to engage.  You have to debate, argue, discuss, with an open mind. You probably have to go through the material more than once.  You have to work at it.

I am biased here, but I think that this is the unique value of the book synopses I present. Though one can just listen, I provide deeper engagement options.  In the old days, long ago when we had live gatherings (three months ago was our last before the shutdown), I would give every participant a physical synopsis handout for each book I present.  People would follow along; I would call attention to item after item on page after page.  Those who “learned” how to actively participate would have their pens out, marking key passages in the handouts, writing in the margins.  I have been told by many that they go back over the handouts later, re-reading them, re-absorbing and re-pondering them.

In other words, they actually study the handouts.

{Note:  in this remote era, I provide the pdfs of the synopses handouts before the event, and people print out their own copies at home.  And, as I look at the small images through Zoom, I see plenty of folks following along, pens in hand, just like the good old days…  But, I think that such full attentiveness may be an even greater challenge in this remote era}.

I can assure you of this:  I cannot prepare a synopsis without studying the book carefully.  I highlight hundreds of passages.  I reduce those to a smaller number (almost nearly a hundred) for my handouts.  I work diligently to capture the best lessons, and then to arrive at my lessons and takeaways.  Every time I present a book, it is almost like I am reading it four times

1st – I read the book
2nd – I prepare the handout, re-reading every highlight I made
3rd – I read over my handout carefully before I present the synopsis, marking up my notes with many underlinings, circling of key phrases, notes in the margin to myself
4th – I present the synopsis, and as I do, I am reminding myself again of the key lessons and takeaways

So, of course, I get the most out of the synopses.  Teachers learn

(Teachers learn, and then teach as well as they can. Remember the old adage:  if you really want to learn something, teach it to someone else. Here’s one version: “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” — Yogi Bhajan).

And then, those who are engaged, present, and attentive, tell me they get a great deal out of the presentations.

So… the question for you is this:  Are you simply a “passive learner?”  Just receiving what comes your way.  Or, do you prepare yourself to put aside all distractions, and engage fully in every learning opportunity you decide to pursue?

An engaged, active, attentive learner actually learns more than one who is unengaged, passive; not fully present.

How are you doing?

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