I like to learn ‘passively’. I like to sit in an auditorium and listen to a speaker present their research and build a case for a particular approach or finding. I love to listen while having my perspective broadened, my assumptions challenged, my thinking pushed.
While I enjoy hearing case studies, I don’t need to be given practical ideas that I can use in my classroom tomorrow. All I need are ideas and principles. I’m more than capable of considering how I can bring them to my context.
I enjoy discussions, but I need to have time (sometimes a lot of it) to process the ideas and information I’ve heard. When I’m made to plunge into discussion too early, it disrupts the deep thinking that I need. I feel frustrated as without that, I feel forced to just skate across the surface of ideas. That’s why sometimes I baulk when I know I’ll be attending an event that focuses on networking, hands- on activities and group discussion.
My psychologist says I’m a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP). I prefer to say that I have “high sensory processing sensitivity” as to me its more helpful than ‘HSP’ which suggests I run around being offended all the time.
From the Wikipedia entry on HSP
a large body of research now suggests that sensory-processing sensitivity (SPS) is innate and found in about 15–20% of humans and is characterized by a greater depth of processing of sensory input, leading to a greater awareness of subtleties along with the probably necessary result of becoming more overaroused by levels of sensory stimulation that do not bother others.
And its true, I do have many of the characteristics of high sensory processing sensitivity. I pick up subtleties and need to process information deeply. Bright lights (especially fluorescent), crowds and noise can overwhelm me. I pick up on other people’s moods and can be deeply affected. At the train station, aware that the person next to me is highly stressed, I find myself absorbing their mood and feeling it too. On busy days, I have to withdraw to a quiet space.
I don’t know if I can describe what being overwhelmed feels like, but it’s as if my brain is full of chaos, I can’t think or focus. It’s a physically draining, stressful and deeply unpleasant experience.
Therefore, I don’t thrive at conferences. As much as I loved EduChange, for example, the combination of quick presentation after quick presentation, small group discussions and larger networking activities completely overwhelmed my ability to process. I felt stressed and guilty because instead of using the break times to catch up with people I’d hoped to see, I was using them to escape outside, to find stillness and clarity. I felt frustrated because there was so much information and too rapid for me to process – I couldn’t absorb it.
I’m apprehensive about attending the Social Ventures Australia Education Dialogue this week. I’m honoured to be invited, the list of speakers sound amazing. However, a significant part of it will include discussion. It may be fine, but I fear that the noise, the multitude of ideas, and the stimulation of meeting new people may overwhelm my system again. To cope, I can always walk away and then return. But it reflects poorly on me when I take that option. It can be interpreted as disinterest both in networking and in the ideas.
I’m not against discussions. I value them. Hearing perspectives, exploring and testing ideas add to my depth of understanding and lead to valuable and ongoing professional connections. But I like a gap between presentation and discussion. I learn best when I have time to process new information. I also prefer working in smaller groups where I can really listen to what people have to say and tease out ideas.
But back to my first statement about preferring to learn ‘passively’.
Passive learning is an odd concept. I seems more illustrative of what our bodies are doing than what is taking place cognitively. As I sit, listening to a lecture, my body may be passive, but my mind is actively listening, processing, critiquing and evaluating what I hear. There is nothing passive about it. I wonder if such a thing as ‘passive learning’ even exists.