Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Back to School

Earlier this year I decided to take up the opportunity to go back to "school" and learn to use Excel. It was a free course and it ran over nine Saturdays. I haven't been in formal education for over twenty years and I was interested to see how it felt.
There must have been close to 100 students there on that first day, we were all aged, I would guess, between 30 and 50, with a huge number of newish migrants.
As the weeks passed, many stopped coming to class and the four classes we started with were reduced to three and then two.
It took a long time for people to warm up, I think I attended five weeks before anyone spoke to me, despite my regular smiles and hellos. Everyone is keen to get in there, learn what they can and then get back to their other responsibilities.
When I was going to college in the early nineties we were a very small class of young students attending three times a week for four years so we knew each other well (even when we would prefer not to) but apart from that, my 2016 college experience was not so far different to what it was way back when.
The one thing that had changed was assessment. In the old days we would be given a grade or percentage mark and if we wanted to improve, we mostly had to look at our exam papers and figure out what we did wrong.
In this course, we were assessed only as competent or not yet competent and if not yet competent, we were given detailed feedback on what we could change. The first time I received a detailed report I was a little disheartened at the number of things I needed to improve, it felt like a lot of negative feedback. I quickly realised, though, that most of the issues I needed to address were small and easily fixed. The very specific guidance made it easier to identify problems and fix them.
Just a week ago I met an old friend who had also recently gone back to class after an extended break and she remarked to me that although she was graded competent, the seemingly large amount of negative feedback she received destroyed her confidence to attempt further study. I protested that the new way is more helpful, if you can just get over the initial ego jolt but she was quite determined that she is "not academic enough"

Funny how two people can interpret two things so differently, isn't it?


  1. I suspect I would have been with you. Initially disheartened, but with specific things to work on, it has to be a plus.
    And yes, it is always interesting to see how differently people interpret things.

  2. EC
    In this case, she is allowing some bad feedback to destroy dreams and potential. Or maybe she's avoiding failure. it's a pity either way

  3. In my working life, I was sponsored to many Executive Development Programmes in many institutes all over the world. To the best of my recollection, I must have attended five residential ones lasting from three days to three months and innumerable one day and weekend seminars. Part of the price one pays for growth in corporate life I guess.

    Without exception, I found in all these courses, three types of attendees. The serious ones who really wanted to learn, which included me, the ones who thought that it was a paid for by the employer perk to be enjoyed as a routine from drudgery, and the more prominent know alls who thought that these outings forced on them by the HR departments were a waste of time and that they would rather be back at work.

    You can imagine who grew!

  4. Personally, I had much rather know where the things I need to "fix" are.

  5. I think negative feedback is okay, as long as there is also a feeling of hope given that you can conqueror the problems you have. Also it depends how you were brought up. If you were constantly told you weren't any good at things I think as an adult it's harder to believe in yourself.

  6. Ramana,
    I have found that these things are usually easier if ego is removed. It's hard to do but worth the effort

  7. Anne,
    A long list of mistakes is very confronting but it is also full of information. And the detail provided takes away any motivation to just excuse yourself on the basis that the teacher is unfair or other such nonsense.

  8. Joey,
    I so agree, self belief is easier for some than others but it can be cultivated!
    My friend has huge potential but she didnt use the building block of success that she had

  9. I went back to school at age 49-- I still failed Algebra, matter of fact I failed it 3 more times which brought my personal failure rate to lifetime 7 attempts, 7 losses. It is a record I have learned to boast about. Negative feedback--in algebra they tried to make it into an equation--*meh* I didn't understand it.

  10. I agree, the feedback may be a bit disheartening, but without feedback how are you going to learn and increase your skills? It seems to me your friend must have had low self-confidence to start with, to be so easily put off. I assume she didn't take it up with the teacher, who might have been able to reassure her about her ability to learn.

    Good for you acquiring a new skill. I use Excel all the time but I only have a very basic knowledge of it - how to do simple formulae, how to copy from one cell into another etc. I could probably do with some advanced tuition myself.

  11. Mark,
    I bet you did ok with poetry!

    I failed a maths subject three times and was potentially going to be kicked out of the whole course then for some unknown reason I received a new results notice saying I passed.
    I feel like they passed me to save having me in the class again!

  12. Nick,
    I chose Excel because it seems to be so much in demand, but i havent had cause to use it yet.
    In the end I passed "complex spreadsheets" with no mistakes. yay!


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