Learning curve vs. linear left-brain tradition

I’ve been mulling over my live WordPress lesson with Alexis Grant at Panera yesterday. Alexis is five years younger than my daughter, and she whizzed effortlessly around her laptop, demonstrating all kinds of features I’d been clueless about and even teaching me some html language. I asked her if she’d ever formally studied this stuff, and she hasn’t – she’s entirely self-taught. 

Like me, most of my writer friends are of what I’d charitably call the “eligible for AARP” generation. Unlike me, the majority are technophobic when it comes to computers and social networking. Some have their own websites (designed by others), and some subscribe to Yahoo groups for writers, like Murder Must Advertise. But the idea of blogging still intimidates them.  And Facebook or Twitter? Forget it!

Those of us over 50 learned how to learn in a totally different modality – linear, left-brain and logical. As a traditional college student, I excelled: I attended all the lectures, took diligent notes, did all the assigned reading, underlining the key points, and emerged from the academic sausage machine Magna cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. 

But that was a completely different style of learning. Navigating my way around a program like WordPress requires a much more intuitive, experimental approach, and the ability to endure trial, error and ambiguity, and to search for solutions that are hidden in layers beneath layers. Come to think of it, it’s a lot more like the creative process of fiction writing or painting, arts I came to after I was finished with academia. Maybe I’ll even come to enjoy it and transcend my technophobia.

Hmm, I see lots of questions emerging for future blogs. How does age impact on our ability to learn whole new ways of thinking? Does the way we were taught in the past handicap our ability to learn new technology? I’d love to see others weigh in on this.

One simpler thing Alexis inspired me to do: blog in the morning rather than late at night. Golly gee, the thoughts actually flow more easily!

24 thoughts on “Learning curve vs. linear left-brain tradition

    • I’ve been on Facebook a couple of months, but I’m not sure I see the value either. Don’t understand the appeal of Twitter yet, but I’m trying.

  1. This post made me think about my experiences as a software engineer and mother of a (now-teenaged) son. By two-and-a-half, Marcus had learned to negotiate our computer, moving the cursor to the arrow of the interactive “storybook” to make the dog bark or turn the page. By the time he got his first video game, he didn’t bother with any tutorials; he could intuitively find his way through the game and figure out the goal.

    By contrast, I used to work on an R&D project that required me to travel to military bases and demonstrate the system. It’s been probably 10 years now, but I still remember the graying officer who told me, “I studied this thing for two hours last night, and I can finally get that arrow to move around on the screen.” He was so proud.

    I think we accept the world we’re born into, from the personal (family dynamics) to the global (technology, tools).


  2. Love this post, Julie. I am of the same age as you, so I completely relate to how we learned to learn. When I went back to school 7 years ago to complete my college degree, I did it the way I used to (the way you describe so beautifully in your post). I got the straight A’s and graduated Summa cum Laude, but it hasn’t helped me with this technology stuff. If it’s intuitive, my intuition is somewhere else!


    • Glad you liked the post, Karen. Maybe “intuitive” is an exaggeration. But tonight at Border’s I bought a “WordPress for Dummies” book. There’s an overwhelming amount of information, and once again it gives me that panicky Dummy feeling.

    • Yes, it’s tough, but at least no one is grading us. I’m even finding it – dare I say it? – fun. Good luck to you too! I’ve been enjoying your blog.

  3. I protest the phrase, “being older makes it harder.” I’m….hmmm, let’s just say I’m old enough to use that excuse if I choose.

    Because of that first book, I taught myself to build my own website (with Yahoo! SiteBuilder), discovered I had enough graphic arts talent to create my own flyers and design my own bookmark (using Microsoft Publisher), and I’m learning a little html. Yes, I had a bit of computer experience from my work years, but nothing that helped with SiteBuilder and Publisher. I had to use the tutorials and read books and make mistakes. That’s fine. We can learn anything we put our minds to. We’re not only older, we’re wiser, and we’re smart too.


    • Did I say “Being older makes it harder?” I don’t think so – at any rate, I don’t believe it. I’m convinced we can keep learning at any age.

      I’m encouraged to hear you built your own website. I’ve been meaning to do that for ages – but with WordPress, I’m wondering whether I’ll even need a separate website, since this program allows the same features plus a lot more.

    • I’m with you – I can’t believe I used to write on an IBM Selectric and had to retype things over and over! I’m still not crazy about cell phones, though, and I don’t understand all the bells and whistles on my Blackberry.

    • I agree. And I’d never have guessed from your blog site that you stuck with that career for so long. You sound so footloose and fancy free, especially in your travel site.

  4. Well, I too am of the generation you so eloquently described. I have 3 websites and a forum board I have designed (admitedly, they were easy set ups but I still anguished over them), MySpace (that one I enjoy I “get it”, Facebook (too many distractions – applications for playing games (actually a lot of those games are on MySpace too, but they call my name louder on Facebook for some reason), and Twitter (I don’t know that I’ll ever “get it” unless you stay on there all the time you will likely miss the tweets of your friends and followers you actually know. And what is up with only140 characters…you have GOT to be kidding!!!…sigh.

    This is a post I can really identify with (particularly since I am still trying to fix my URL issues from last week…)

    NA Sharpe

    • Good to hear from you – but I’m sorry to learn there are game applications on Facebook, since I play far too much computer solitaire already. I’m on Facebook, but I haven’t checked it out since I enrolled in this Blog Book Tours course – not enough hours in the day!

  5. I think it’s terrific that you’re willing to challenge yourself, knowing that the process itself is not intuitive for you. I am concerned about these issues because I think so many of my students are still being taught in this linear tradition that does not make them prepared for the jobs they will be doing. It frustrates me that many of my colleagues see the internet only as something where people waste their time rather than the communication base of the world. The students have the technical abilities, but they don’t have the training for critical evaluation of the information and that’s what they badly need. I keep beating the drum, but not enough of my colleagues heed it.

    • Really thought-provoking reply. I thought most of my education was irrelevant to the real world back in the day, and I’m sorry to hear things haven’t changed that much.

  6. This is Julie logging in from my granddaughter Kaya’s computer in Woodstock. She’s only nine, but her name, not her mother’s, comes up on this computer. Just reinforces what I was saying about generational differences yesterday! I’m hoping she’ll read and most here too, but she’s busy looking after her younger sister Jasper.

  7. Julie, I’m self taught too. I still haven’t got onto FaceBook yet and I’m not convinced twitter is useful at all. But I agree, blogging and writing in the morning are best for me too. You did well, your blog has a lot comments.

    In Quest of Theta Magic

  8. FYI–I’m over 50 and I have three (count’ em three) blogs, plus I’m also on Facebook, CrimeSpace, LinkedIn and Twitter.

    Which is weird when you consider how technophobic I once was–until I started blogging. Starting to blog made me much more comfortable in the online world. I became less afraid to try things out, less afraid to make mistakes. More willing to just give something a try and see where I went with it.

    I am far more willing to experiment now than I was. Or to put it another way–what you said. 🙂

    • Thanks for the feedback, Debbi. I’m feeling more comfortable with experimentation as well. But I still have moments of panic, like just now when I couldn’t find my own blog site! More specifically, I kept getting old versions or ones where I couldn’t edit or add anything, or where my post came up differently than the way I’d edited it. That’s when my pulse ratchets up and I start hyperventilating – of course that could be because I’m on my third cup of coffee, too.

      When I calmed down, I closed the many windows I had open and logged into wordpress the proper way, through their home page. Now all is well.

      • Yes, all problems can be reasoned out. Just remember the advice from the Hitchhiker’s Guide: “Don’t Panic!” 🙂

  9. Great post. We keep slogging on and learning all the time. It boggles the mind to think what we’ve experienced on the path of life. I remember carbon paper and learned to type on an Underwood that weighed about 1,000 pounds.

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