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Monday, May 14, 2012

Mark Twain Makes Learning Easy

'A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.' Mark Twain

Carrying a Cat by the Tail

Mark Twain can evoke an image like no other and bring it home to rest. Today's Twain-ism elicited a full out belly laugh in me, swiftly followed by the image of carrying a cat by the tail searing into my brain.

While I've never actually carried a cat by its tail, I know exactly what it means ---and you do too.

The Shocking Truth

We often choose our learning lessons, by bucking the wise counsel of others or our own better judgment. Sometimes we just have to step in and experience that wild ride for ourselves. We suspect what we're about to do is not a good idea, but we're going with it any way.

As a kid growing up surrounded by cow pastures and orchards, I spent a lot of time running around with neighborhood kids exploring the world around us. One day a pack of us decided it would be fun to touch an electric fence with all of us holding hands just to see what would happen. The person at the front of the line touched the fence with a single piece of wet grass and that current whipped through our bodies, zapping us with a wallop.

Did I suspect it was a bad idea? Yep. Did I do it anyway? Yep. Did I do it again? Nope. Like carrying a cat by the tail, I learned first-hand why that wasn't such a good idea--and I've never forgotten the experience.

Up Close and Personal Experiences--and a Good Story

But not all 'carrying a cat by the tail' experiences go against our good judgment. They're just great up close and personal experiences, like my shocking experience, that pack their own wallop--meaningful, relevant, interesting and fun.

A full 75% of the population in the United States learns best through experience. And the other 25% of us who just imagine and learn? We, too, benefit greatly through hands-on, interactive learning. Nothing gets something into our memory and enhances our learning like hands-on, cat-by-the-tail experience--and a good story.

Don't expect to just read that instruction manual and expect to retain the contents. It's boring. Do something with the information instead--something interactive--it'll stick better. And if the way you interact with the information creates a great, outlandish image or story, it's all the better for helping you remember the details.

Mark Twain was the master of outlandish. And that's why we remember so many of his sayings. So liven up your daily learning experiences by taking a cue from the master himself. Find your own outrageous (but safe) way to shoot that needed information into your brain.

Design Your Own Carry-a-Cat-by-the-Tail Learning Experience

·         Where in your life do you need to step in and gain first-hand experience?

·         What outlandish image, story or experience can you create to make the learning experience more relevant, meaningful and fun?

P.S. No animals were harmed in the process of writing this post!

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Anonymous said...

This is a gem, Susan! I can just see you as a bright-eyed youngster trying this experiment! Thanks for making me laugh. A perfect reminder for parents of teens too. LOL (lots of love) TMR

Grant said...

What a great post Sue, Love it! The common saying about learning that encapsulates your points is 'learning by trial and error', and that's one way to learn, but I always prefer to learn by 'trial and success'... much quicker and less painful! That's the notion behind the field of behavioral modeling. You find an exemplar who has already figured out how to do something successful and you watch/learn from them and emulate their success. I don't need to touch an electric fence if I see someone else do it and see what happens. Equally, if someone with experience tells me about it, I can learn powerfully from that. So yes, agree that experience is necessary for learning, but sometimes the experience is best 'experienced' vicariously. Modeling success from others is the sort of experience that generates awesome success quickly.

smiles, Grant

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Dear TMR!
Ah, the active learning process of teens! Hold your breath until they hit the age of reason--about 25--then exhale. LOL to you too!

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Grant--you always offer up some delightful little tidbit that tweaks our perspective for the better. Thank you!

Jean said...

My husband and I love Mark Twain. Chances are if I hear my husband laugh out loud while he's reading, he's reading Twain. I love your electric fence story. I can just picture it! It's just the sort of thing my brother would have done.

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Jean--I like your husband. I can picture him laughing outloud reading Twain. I love you took your most wonderful of Blog Names, Delightful Repast, from him.