Independent Learners

BrianLearning how to learn is the main ingredient in a student’s college experience. It is one that will carry over to the workforce no matter what expertise a new job requires. After I reported aboard the USS Samuel Gompers AD37, the executive officer said, “You’re the new communications officer,” which meant reporting to him on all ingoing and outgoing radio traffic aboard ship.

I said, “But sir, I don’t know anything about communications.” He tartly replied, “That doesn’t matter. When I need to know something, I expect you to find out and tell me.” This sounded overwhelming, but the executive officer was a mustang commander who’d been in thirty years and had come up through the ranks after enlisting, and he didn’t look open to negotiation.

US Navy 070326-N-4716P-006 Lt. John Connally, ...

When I would mention to other personnel my incompatibility with the communications assignment, the response was routinely the same: “The navy figures that if you persevered four years in college and graduated, then you will persevere in this.”

That principle wouldn’t apply to performing medical procedures or repairing complex and expensive equipment, and that wasn’t the end in view. The personnel were in place to do the technical aspects of the communications; my part was to coordinate and collect. Lots of jobs, both in the military and in civilian life, are geared to the generalist who has learned to assess many learning situations with varied instructors and course formats.


Perseverance (Photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina})

What this means to the college student of today is the same as it has always meant: it’s important to be aggressive, read instructors and their strategies, and anticipate the direction things are headed. The same is true whether at work or school. Students do better when they drop the passive model of their education and see it as a job.

This means that students will at times struggle, not sure what to do. It’s challenging to know when to step in with an answer and when to leave the student to wrestle more. Rules won’t help here. With a belt on a machine, it’s apparent when the belt is too tight or too loose. With people, it’s harder to read much of the time and has to be sensed in the moment.

But then, that’s what makes teaching what it is.


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