Monday, June 6, 2011

Learning 1/5 — Choose to Learn

This week, I've got a theme: Learning. There are five steps in the process of truly learning something and I'll be discussing one each day.

Choose to Learn | Don't Take Notes | Try it Out | Play with Alternatives | Teach It

Choose to Learn (Part 1 of 5)
First you must choose to learn the subject at hand. This may sound like a no-brainer, particularly for those of you who have moved past school and really only ever study things that truly interest you, but I think this is actually the biggest differentiator between the A students and the ones struggling to graduate each year. I'm going to stick to the classroom analogy for consistency but all of this applies equally to workplace training, personal betterment and improving your Magic game.

Everyone prefers some subjects over others and I'm not shedding any new light when I say that we do better at the subjects we care about. That's natural and there's nothing wrong with spending more time reading Kipling than calculating the force of a catapult's launch or vice-versa, but when you say to yourself, "history is boring; who cares what year some dead guy betrayed some other dead guy," you're choosing not to learn. Your mind shuts off during that class, you day-dream about Hippogriff cowboys and you've lost 30-90 minutes of your life for five days a week for an entire school year / semester.

Art class was awesome and you can't wait to go back? Great. That was an easy choice to learn. Actively fighting your inclination to goof off in Spanish class might be a much harder choice, but if you value your own time at all (and everyone should, but that's another subject entirely) you will benefit much more from choosing to learn during that time instead. Remember, school isn't work. No one's paying you to be there. You are paying to be there. You are paying with your time and effort, your parents' money and your neighbors' money. I am paying for your (public, pre-college) education. It's your choice to make the most of it or to waste it.

How do you learn a subject you don't care about? Well, if you really don't care, you really can't learn. You just have to find the parts of the subject you do care about and focus on them. For example, history was one of my boring subjects because I'm terrible with dates and could never see how memorizing such numbers could help. So I didn't. I was terrible at those parts of the test. What was interesting to me were the political and military machinations that allowed one leader to triumph over another or the determined progress of individuals over pervasive and irrational mindsets that made the world a better place. You can also focus on the ways in which learning these boring things can benefit you in the future that you care about. The truism of history is that those who don't know it are doomed to repeat it. Well, I've been learning from the mistakes of others so I'd never have to make them myself since I was a kid, so having an overview of all the biggest mistakes that have ever been made is pretty useful to me.

You can enjoy doing something, do it regularly, and still learn very little from it. The vast majority of Magic players play casually. Everyone plays for fun, but some attach that fun to the process of learning and improving while others prefer to relax and just enjoy the escapism of traveling to fantastic worlds and wielding great magic in a friendly contest of might, wits and luck. There's nothing wrong with that, but if you do want to get better, you can't just play: you must choose to learn, and that requires "purposeful study." Think about your plays before you make them and after. Look back for the mistakes you weren't aware of at the time. Talk with other players. Envision future games and scenarios, including how you could leverage your new ideas as well as how your plans could go wrong.

In terms of Magic design, this was a big lesson for me. I've been designing Magic cards for well over a decade and I can tell you that I learned relatively very little during that time because I never bothered to share them and get feedback. In contrast, since #GDS2, I've had tons of great feedback from contributors on the Wizards Wiki, R&D itself, and from readers like you on Goblin Artisans, and I can't understate how those additional perspectives have taught me new and more critical ways to look at Design; I've learned not only from those comments directly, but also how to critique designs myself and therefore produce better designs. By designing publicly, I have made the conscious choice to really learn as much and as fast as possible.

Okay, I'm done being soapboxious for today. Check in tomorrow for part two: Don't Take Notes.

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