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Teaching, and learning, like a child


If you've ever done any teaching, you have probably heard that the best teachers are those who can explain things as if to a child. That is, explaining things in such a clear way that it is easily understood, followed, and learned. Of course, very few teachers can do that, which is part of the reason that so many people get frustrated. Most teachers start talking about stuff that is so over the heads of their students, that there is simply no way for learning to happen.

The biggest problem with all of this is a thing called "prerequisites". That is, before a student can learn something, like Geometry, they need to understand basic Algebra. Going directly from arithmetic to Geometry is a waste of time. And that's the catch. Most people have no interest in being told that they are at such a low level that they need to go back to basics. And for these people, sad to say, there is nothing that a teacher can do. I've had people get mad at me for this, but sorry, there is no point in trying to learn CSS until you know HTML.

If you do want to learn something, you will need to learn it as a child. That is, break it down into pieces that make sense to you. If you want to learn to juggle while riding a unicycle, it's best to start with a basic part. You can start with juggling, or you can start with riding a unicycle. Or you may have to learn how to throw things in the air and catch them, or how to ride a bicycle. Or a tricycle. See what I mean?

As someone who loves to learn new things, I am always trying to figure out how to break things down into reasonable parts. I'm most often looking for prerequisite knowledge. Or how to simplify a complex task. I call it "not trying to jump too many steps at a time".

The longest journey begins with a single step. If the teacher in front of you, whether a person, a book, or a website, is too far advanced, simply step back. If you want to learn anything, from software to a foreign language, begin at a place that seems laughably simple. You will learn with the eyes of a child.