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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Surviving General Ed II: The One Reality in the Universe (for this semester, at least...)

Learning to Learn Series 
By Jim Larkin and Jack Powers

Let’s face it: if you hate your major coursework, you’ve probably picked the wrong major and can only blame yourself. However, everyone has a bit more license when it comes to hating general ed. After all, taking the course wasn’t your idea, and you’ll probably never revisit the subject matter in the professional world. Nevertheless, you still need to earn that ‘A’.

In our last Learning to Learn post, we talked about how our preferences for either Sensing (S) or Intuition (N) affect how we approach general ed, and specifically focused on how those preferring Sensing can become engaged by practically connecting the course and their career. This time we’d like to approach it from the point of view of someone preferring Intuition (N), who may also hit a wall in general ed, but for very different reasons.

Losing steam at the halfway point
As someone who prefers N, you’re likely the wide-eyed, ‘eager-to-learn for learning’s sake’ type, curious about a wide range of subjects and viewing them as an opportunity to expand your horizons. Naturally, you find the subject fascinating and dive into the course with relish. You don’t empathize with the grumbling ‘S’ sitting next to you, who can’t find a single positive thing to say about the experience.

But midway, faced with the first test or term paper, the realities of having to hit the books start to peel the shimmer from this exercise in horizon expansion. Halfway through the course you’re just as burned out as the grumbling ‘S’ -- stuck in a class that’s draining your time and energy, yet has nothing to do with your future career.

It doesn’t have to be this way. By understanding your own personality type, you can maintain your engagement in the course, and earn that ‘A’ that you need to get into your grad school of choice. As those with an ‘N’ preference tend to become aware of meanings and relationships beyond the information given, you can leverage your natural curiosity and ability to focus on the big picture and future possibilities to maintain peak academic performance.

Connect to the big picture
As someone who generally views things from the big picture, any means of connecting the course to your larger career goals, or to the person that you aspire to become, will help you maintain interest and plough through less-than-inspiring coursework.

For example, while certain subjects may not be relevant to your future career, the skills that you learn -- cognitive, communicative, logical -- may very well be. In most professions, knowledge of subject matter is only half the picture -- often you need to be able manage a team and run a business to achieve success.

Also, if you were at one point fascinated with the subject matter, chances are you can be fascinated with it again -- try to reconnect with what sparked your interest in the first place.  

Focus on the one reality in the Universe -- the here and now
As interest in the course wanes, it may be advisable to flex your preference for Intuition and adopt behaviors that come more naturally to those preferring Sensing. As Charleton Heston said in Planet of the Apes, there’s only one reality in the universe: we are here, and this is now.

In your case, the one reality in your universe may be that you need an ‘A’ in this course to get into the graduate program of your dreams. Reminding yourself of that will help motivate you to buckle down and study.  

Developing your brain
Rather than viewing it as developing a skill that you don’t necessarily need, think of it as developing a brain function that you very much do need. Sure, you may never have to calculate the velocity of a 30-pound falling rock against 60 MPH wind, but those same logical, calculative brain abilities may prove to be very valuable in other contexts.

Embrace the value of moving beyond theory
For Ns, some of the deflation may occur when you’re required to move beyond the general theory of a subject, and actually start to apply the learning in practical ways. For example, you may enjoy discussing concepts like gravity in a Physical Science course, yet intensely dislike having to work through any sort of equation.

You can combat this by continually reminding yourself that digging in and doing some of the “dirty work” so to speak, is also very much a part of your journey toward becoming a well-rounded person. How much more interesting of a person will you be when you’re the only one at the dinner party who understands how to calculate the mass of a star? 

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