I've Been Learning All Wrong

Sunday, 17 May 2015

My course has a Facebook group where we all come together to discuss relevant topics, share relatively important news and ask pertinent questions in regards to the course material. As the exam heat slowly cranks up (I'll let you know when we reach boiling point), the posts to the group now fit into two distinct categories: "Did we see this in class? I wasn't there/was asleep/had to scroll my Facebook feed instead of paying attention/I can't seem to be able to read my notes" and "Can you explain ____ to me?"

The answers given to the second category often makes me heart-clenchingly anxious because those who are generous enough to take the time to answer seem to know the answer. I don't just mean they give a verbatim reproduction of the textbook or what the lecturer said in class, but they know their material. They understand. They're really into the course. And they're probably going to make fine lawyers. 

Rather than leading me down my all-too-travelled road of wondering whether Law is for me (I know Belgian Law most definitely is not), this observation lead me to question my learning style. No, not whether I am a visual or auditory learner, or if I'm more creatively or scientifically inclined, or whether flashcards would be my friend if I started using them early enough or if I would remember my course material better if highlighted in peach as opposed to mint green. It lead me to ask myself whether all these years I haven't been going about the whole learning thing all wrong, and I came to the conclusion that I have. 

I've realised that throughout my entire academic career, I have learned to pass and get the grade, but I haven't actually learned to, you know - learn

When it came to studies, my focus has always been results-orientated. It's been a nasty case of "Yes, I will happily take in all the course material and show you how well I've retained it and in exchange you had better provide me with a shiny piece of paper telling the whole world how spectacular my grades are". I could cite a whole host of reasons why this came to be my mentality, though I would be quick to blame the way the majority of mainstream education systems are set up, parental expectations and the use of academic success as a means of teenage self-validation as I struggled to figure out who I was. I also think I just didn't know any better. 

I'd never sat down to really think about it. The answer to the question of why you should study, especially when you're from a first-generation immigrant family, was always going to be 'to get a good job, to be successful in life and because you should be lucky you can even attend school - and for free!'. The higher the grade, the better my life was (theoretically) going to be. It wasn't until I begun to really question what I was passionate about in life and why I never seemed to like my course as much as my coursemate that I realised the limits of results-orientated learning. 

When all you care about is getting the top grades, you are focused on knowing the course material as best as you can - not exploring the actual subject you're being taught. Extra-curricular activities feel pointless unless they're enhancing your CV in some way or will help you get better grades in the long run. Results-orientated learning is a hollow sort of learning that will never allow you to take your academics beyond the walls of the institution you're in. The real world, unfortunately, is not structured like a syllabus, and life does not hand out diplomas for overcoming the obstacles it'll regularly throw at you.

Up until now I was quick to blame the school system: I was convinced that I didn't enjoy my English classes because analysing my favourite books sucked enjoyment out of them, or that I couldn't study something more vocational or creative with no "guaranteed" job prospects because then I'd struggle to get into university and such a shame that would be. I was so sure that school was sucking the fun and enjoyment out of everything without realising that I was the culprit. By taking all the subjects that I was good at or was passionate about, and heaping on the pressures of results-orientated learning, I was the one turning myself against them. If I wasn't going to be the best, no matter how much I enjoyed it, then it wasn't worth investing the time in it.

I completely missed the point of learning, which is to learn; to deepen your knowledge about a topic, to understand it, to add it to your skill set. It's really not about the grades (though they're not unimportant)

With my final exams imminent, it's a tad too late to apply this newfound discovery to my course, but I can apply to other areas of my life: such as blogging. There is so much to learn about blogging, which is what makes it such an exciting and passionate creative outlet with so much potential. I know that if I go about learning more about blogging from a results-orientated perspective, by this time next year, I'll hate it. It's not about stats, or follower counts or eventual awards, and there's no test you can take on blogging that you can pass with flying colours. Learning in hopes of understanding, of improving, of growing, however, that sounds more like something that can help you grow not only as a blogger but as a person. 

I've been learning all wrong but at least I learned that I was. Now I can change it. 

Are you a (former) results-orientated learner as well? What's more important to you - getting high grades or the knowledge you acquire? 


  1. I think a lot of people reach this conclusion - especially when it's coming up to finals time because you know you are about to enter the real world and, for me, that is when you really start to learn because you can amalgamate your knowledge with the experience you gain and it feels very fulfilling. This time next year, you might feel differently. Also, a lot of people study a subject but don't work in that area afterwards, but they use the skills they learned elsewhere. Best of luck xx

    1. Thank you :) I agree - I think now that I realise how I've been learning, I can approach life experiences much more differently, and take what I learn whether it's on further courses or through learning on the job, and see what I can take from it and apply to different areas of my life. It's taken me awhile but I think I finally realise what transferable skills actually mean! x x

  2. I feel like that is one of the biggest problems of educational system. Most pupils/students care about grades more than about knowledge. And I can't deny, I'm one of that students. However, in my opinion, if I was analyzing every single corner of classes I have (in country where I live there is no selective system, so it doesn't matter if I would be doing physics or, for example, history in future, I'm still learning it), I would simply lose my mind. But at the same time I do my best to actually learn subjects I'm interested at without fighting for highest grades. At the end of the day they aren't as important as your knowledge.

    1. I think some people just naturally place the importance on knowledge, and others (like me) struggle to realise that it's really not all about the grades. I agree that when you're in secondary school, and still at a very generalised stage of your learning it's hard to take knowledge from every subject, but you can from the ones you like - and that's what allows you to slowly specialise the higher you get into further education. I never stopped to think about that until now x

  3. I really like the way you described blogging. It's not all about getting views, followers etc...of course thats important, but you end up learning so much more.

    Great post overall.

    Pam Scalfi♥

    1. Thanks :) Yah, I'm super excited to learn more about the blogging world. Some of my favourite blogs are related to blogger advice and resources, because so much more goes into it than writing posts, posting a little on social media, and repeat. Blogging is the crossover world of writing, marketing/PR, social media with an add special something so there isn't a lack of things to learn! x