Easy, Cheap, No Work

” I want the eight hour class, but I want you to spend no more than half a day. And I don’t want you to lose anything. Can you do that?”

Postcards“The two day class seems like a lot of work. Can you cut out some of the exercises without losing any of the learning?”

“My group really is scared of complicated classes. What can you do to make the topic simple so no one has to ask any questions or see a demo?”

I hear these questions at least twice a month, both about my art classes and my business writing classes. Fun, easy, simple classes are wonderful. Many things that are easy and simple are valuable and worth learning.

From Lisa Loves Learning

From Lisa Loves Learning

But there is value in complicated. Struggle with something and conquer it and you have two valuable outcomes–you’ve learned something new and you have learned that you are strong enough to stick with something worthwhile.

Sadly, challenges are getting a bad name. If something is hard, it is the teacher’s perceived job is to make it easy. I’ve seen the title workshop become “playshop” because, you know, work is hard.

Teachers are not meant to hand people pre-digested solutions to solve problems or to complete a project. Part of  personal growth is in the struggle, is in finding solutions, is in completing the work. No one loves failure, but it can be part of a larger success. A life that has no challenges, whose answers come supplied by others does not add any significant learning or meaning.

Struggle for the sake of struggle is not useful. But working hard for what you want brings rewards independent of winning. And rewards are worth working for.

Quinn McDonald draws out the brave in people. She admires the brave meaning-makers far more than winners.



31 thoughts on “Easy, Cheap, No Work

  1. There is such joy in discovering the new through personal trials and errors. Also, a lesson learned that way is certainly a lesson for life. Thanks for another great post.

  2. Ah, yes. The Quick and Dirty police are at it again! QUICK is not always good. Good things take time to create and complete. And how old are these people, anyway? Workshops are supposed to challenge. If they don’t, why bother take them? DUH!

  3. I am a professor, and hear these statements quite frequently. Because I teach English as a Second Language, Ii want students to leave with the knowledge of the new language. Students know that I won’t let up on them until they meet my standards. Sometimes they fail the class and the come back the next semester. I have to admire them for that!

    One book we use for upper level students is “Mind Set,” which is such a fantastic book to look at a lot of these issues.

  4. I wonder how many people take classes just to say they did it. It makes them sound busy and important. For many people it is just a “fill in”. For me, I have to WANT to go and carve out the time. If I get to go to a class for two days it feels like a retreat for me too. And I want the content to be worth the time and effort I put into getting there!
    The idea of getting really good at something without practice and learning new skills is absurd. Ever wonder why a doctor has a “practice”? Doctors never stop learning. The scary part is they are practicing for keeps on you and me! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but they keep practicing.

  5. Nice! I think a playshop could still have the “hard fun” of learning a new skill or technique. I’m thinking about writing something about the general attitude in our society about the idea of “craft” (the learning of a skill, often artistic, but something that responds to non-formulaic practice). This was a good prod for that.

  6. P.S. “Make and takes” make great teases and are a great way to introduce new techniques and products. To me, an hour or two hour “class” is just an extended make and take.

  7. I’m with Pia. I pass on classes for two reasons for the most part. Either they are way too expensive and require you to buy too many tools in advance for an “intro” class, or, the class is too simplistic. Two hours is a seminar or lecture. It really isn’t a class. I want to be immersed and come away with either a new skill or the beginnings of one that I can practice. I want “hands on.” I want the outside world to slip away and feel that I am in another world inside the classroom, free to explore. I don’t have a lot of opportunity to do that in my “normal life” so a class for me is a mini retreat. Not only do I want my money’s worth, I want my time’s worth! And I definitely want to be challenged!

    • I often bring everything students need in an intro class. That way they don’t have to buy all that stuff to discover it’s not for them. And I’m excited about a class I’m taking next week–and all have to bring is a variety of glue!

  8. But it is the job of teachers to make things easier, isn’t it? When I teach, that’s very much what I perceive my role to be. It’s certainly possible to learn [a topic] completely on your own, but it’s easier with, say, a book or two. It’s even easier with a teacher.

    Adult education is not at all the same thing as “school”, to me. Grades, for example, have no role in it. It’s my job as a teacher in an adult class to make sure everybody grasps the material to our mutual satisfaction. Some people expect grading, but that’s just leftover from their school experiences (and a highly suspect old Prussian idea at that).

    As for failure, it’s useful. Another example from teaching: I have students work on things that I know will fail, because there’s something they don’t know that prevents success. The next task is figuring out why the task didn’t work. Once they do, they understand. You don’t forget things you understand; you only forget things you’re supposed to remember.

    • Easier, yes – otherwise, as you say, I’ll read the book and do it on my own. But not necessarily easy, as the rest of your comment really illustrates. A teacher giving the feedback and prodding that extra effort is sometimes what I need to learn something I didn’t realize I didn’t understand or that I needed to learn at a deeper level. And I totally agree about learning to figure out what went wrong – a crocheter or knitter who can’t do that spends a lot of time being frustrated and waiting for others to fix mistakes for them.

    • Yes, a teacher is supposed to make things easier, or at least explain it in enough ways to have many people grasp it. And I did say, “Fun, easy, simple classes are wonderful. Many things that are easy and simple are valuable and worth learning.” And adult education is not school, like high school. I give adults a lot more praise, because praise reinforces more of the same. Which makes learning easier. And you know how much I love the result of failure (although it’s not always fun).

  9. This is so familiar to me! I have organised weekend courses where we use various taiji (or tai chi) practices to relax both our body and mind. Everybody who has come has really enjoyed it but it’s also really hard to get people to come. Our instructor drives 350 kilometres one way so it’s more practical for everyone to have a two day course twice a year. But, and you know what that but is. It’s just seems to be a too much to ask people to commit to it for a weekend. They think it will be too hard or tiresome, and it’s not! It really restores your energies and quiets those anxieties that have been embedded in your body. “But TWO DAYS! I don’t have time for that!” people say. “I would come if it was only a day.” Though what they mean is 2 hours…

    Have we, the Western society, lost the fact that it takes time to learn and do things? That time is the only way we can find deep meaning in action?

    • I do think that dedicating time to learning is seen as time ill-spent. Action is always good. Meanwhile, we are also saying that we have to do something 10,000 hours before we are considered an “expert.” So contradictory. And, incidentally, so counter-intuitive for learning practice skills like Yoga and meditation.

      • I just read somewhere that that 10 000 hours rule may not be true at all. Apparently some practitioners need less and some more. What a surprise… My taiji teachers sometimes reminisces about his time in a sports school in Beijing where they had lessons of thousand repetitions, i.e. they had to repeat a movement for 1000 or more times in a row. They have similar practices in Japanese budo, I think. Sometimes the teachers, my shifu tells, thought that the students were just “going through the motions” and not actually doing the movements with proper intent. They they turned off the lights so that it was pitch black and told the students to keep on practicing. Every now and again a teacher would turn on a powerful electric torch and shine light on an poor student and so they had to keep on doing every single repetition perfectly in fear of being caught in the limelight! Very effective, he says while sometimes looking like he wishes he could use the same tactics on us! 😀

        While sounding harsh I think there is truth to it: any habit/skill needs repetition. You just better pick good ones as it takes extra repetitions to unlearn bad ones. 😉

        • I personally don’t believe that 10,000 hours of doing anything makes one an expert. I believe mindful practicing does. As a martial arts student, your story shows exactly that. My sensei did the same thing with the lights. We were told to practice, then he turned out the lights and walked away. I always thought it was disrespectful to not continue practicing. When the light came on, and some people were slacking off, they were thrown out. Ahhh, self-discipline!

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