Learning Outside Your Comfort Zone
By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD
When we learn something outside the comfort zone, we attempt to acquire knowledge or skills in an area where we’re lacking. Part of the discomfort derives from learning something we anticipate will be difficult. We have no idea how to do it, or we think it requires abilities we don’t have or have in meager amounts. Moreover, poor performance or outright failure lurk as likely possibilities.
I wonder if learning outside the comfort zone isn’t especially difficult for faculty. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be. We’ve devoted years to learning, but most of what we know resides in one area. We’re experts at learning more about what we already know and love. And we’re used to having our learning expertise recognized—by students, colleagues, and sometimes even at home. However, plop us down in a discipline unlike our own, task us with learning a skill we don’t have, and suddenly, we look and act exactly like our students. And that’s the very reason this kind of learning has all sorts of positive implications for teaching. It’s good every now and then to be reacquainted with feeling stupid.
My note. Eventually, I had to tell a [already departured] library director: it is better to throw stones in the swamp of mediocrity then to sink slowly into it. To the objection of my colleague that throwing stones does NOT improve the situation, I could only say: making ripples until someone more diplomatic will draw the attention means more then just slowing sinking into the swamp of mediocrity. That swamp is determined by the inability / unwillingness of faculty the leave their comfort zone.
In regard to the teacher, who has students memorize and recite a poem – I will never forget Herr Klenske, who made us memorize in 10th grade of high school “Erlkoening” (http://ingeb.org/Lieder/werreite.html). It made us hate him as much, as now I, at least, appreciate his unique approach to fostering to high school students persistence and will.
more about learning in this IMS blog