The Learning Curve: A Creative Discussion #3 Wrap-Up

At the beginning of the month we began a discussion with the creative community about learning. More specifically, about which method for learning people thought was the most effective, or at least, the most effective for them, learning on their own or being taught something by someone else (generally taken for a sort of class environ in which you have an instructor laying out the lesson plan.) In the original post the discussion took off immediately, showing how strong a chord was struck by this query.


As the comments came in and the opinions flowed in a very pros and cons kind of way, we even had a great guest post that further expanded on this look at the ways in which we learn. 5 Tips to Study By, took the look to a more helpful place, offering techniques that have aided others in their past attempts to expand their knowledge base. So after a month of contributing and checking in on the conversation here is the wrap-up.

Systems Check

The learning process is a complex system that is made up of numerous approaches and methodologies, built by what works best for each individual. We customize our process to fit the means that yield the most positive results for us. Everyone absorbs knowledge differently, and we each incorporate the methods and techniques that we need into our educational construct to make sure that we retain what we need to. Through this discussion, we took a look at which environs we found more conducive to our learning process.


This question was in no way intended as a slight against or to downplay the role that teachers play in our lives. As is expressed in numerous comments throughout the discussion, when the job is performed correctly by a passionate participant, a teacher is vital for stimulating and steering us in our educational development.

Teacher’s Leave Them Kids Alone

‘We don’t need no education…’ was not really a popular mantra being uttered among the crowd that was discussing this topic throughout the month here on FYC. In the creative field, continuing education is a must and most of us understand that this is an important part of our creative existence. The question was about the format of that education, and that is where the ideas differed and expanded. We presented our inquiry in a sort of one versus the other kind of way, but it was intended to come from a personal preference perspective.

On the one hand, we had a large wave of support for teaching ourselves. For letting our passion lead us into unknown areas that we would conquer at our own pace and by our own process, and thereby learn more and retain the knowledge better.

Martha Wade – I think its best to learn things yourself, through trial and error and with experience. I have taken formal art and design classes, but I feel like I get more from just doing the work and trying new things. Being ‘taught’ the ‘proper’ way to use type, text, and form are a great foundation for the way people did things in the past. Great to learn new ways of expressing your creativity outside of the confines of what past greats have done. Take those lessons and CREATE something bold and different!

Franz Jeitz – I’m with you on this one Rob and here’s why. First off I want to say that being taught is by no means a bad way of gaining knowledge. I believe that it is a great way to get things going. Depending on the subject it can be quite overwhelming at the beginning. Not knowing where to start is a sure way to give up. Hence having someone lead the way is a great help.
However once the initial contact has been assured it is important to think for ourselves. I remember being taught in school that there are different panels to learning: visual, audio and action (I might have mislabeled them and forgot some, but for the sake of making this point it’ll be sufficient). Being taught mostly adresses the first 2, whereas learning on your own emphasizes on the action. This has been proven to have the greatest success rate in terms of actually remembering the things you learn.
Teaching yourself is certainly more time consuming, but at the same time more rewarding…

rayvolvez – I would say “Learning” is better – in that knowledge are retained more and it is through self-discovery and exploration that leaves a stronger impression.

Well, to put it in another way of saying, “learning” is proactive whereas “being taught” is passive. I prefer to be proactive in my pursuit of knowledge, because I want to decide what I want to learn, know what I’m learning.

True education is never spoonfed.

Looking Good, Mr. Kotter!

And on the other hand of the argument, being taught by someone else, outside of yourself and your realm of experience got quite a bit of support as well. The profound professing the finer points of their subject of expertise to the eager open minds waiting to absorb all that is offered. As the important continued educational march trudges forth, some attribute our desire to carry on this path to those who stood at the head of the class and gave their time to teach us.

CafeNirvana – …Being taught by someone with experience of the subject is good, as long as they are providing a foundation, a map, so to speak, where it is easier for students to organize all the information they collect. A teacher, ideally, should encourage independent questioning and research, they should provide a good framework for learning. Then the process becomes easier, more efficient and far more fulfilling than letting the student flounder in a sea of information and not knowing where to start or end. Pointing out weakness in a thought process or challenging us to take different view points of learning, that too is good in a teacher…

I feel a really good teacher (Be it a parent, a mentor or in an educational institution) imparts a good sense of discipline, structure and encourages a questioning mind, all of which is indispensable when it comes to learning on our own.

Sergiu Naslau – …To be taught is grate, you get everything on a silver plate, you get all the info you need, or do you? The good part of taught is that somebody explains everything do you, puts the bricks of your knowledge foundation, but sometimes a house needs more then a wall, more then a window, needs essence, needs purpose…

Niki Brown – I think that sometimes we need to be taught in order to be motivated to learn. I know that getting a BFA in graphic design definitely helped spark my yearning for design and web related knowledge.

A Bit of Both!

Overall, it should be noted that nearly every answer either claimed that both were vital in some way, or they at least acknowledged the value in the other point of view in the comments. Perhaps a bit of both are necessary to complete so complex a process.

dp – I find learning for yourself THEN being taught is the optimal way to go. After years of teaching myself, I now find that my education lacks in certain respects because I only taught myself the things I wanted to learn. In school, you are also taught the things you don’t want to learn, but should learn in order to be more well rounded. Now, if I went back to school (which i do sometimes with evening classes) I can pick up the things that I lack and throw away the extraneous stuff which I would not know was extraneous had I not educated myself to a large degree. Get me?

Anrkist – Learn, Teach, Learn, Teach, Learn…

When I went to school, I’d already been creating (bad) web sites for years. I wasn’t any good at it but I grasped the overall basics. So, I went to school and obtained a bit of structure and direction for what I was trying to accomplish. Admittedly, the stuff they were teaching in the class were a bit too basic(frames?!), so I ignored much of it but things like CSS I’d never heard of before and I began to seek out more information on it. The classes barley touched the surface on anything worth learning… so I learned to seek answers for myself.

Also, sitting with other people who had similar interests, I began to appreciate what others were doing. So I’m always keeping an eye out on trends and well done sites.

So which is better? For me, the two are intertwined. I wouldn’t be where I am without either.

Jennifer – Learning gives you the benefits of weeding through information that you already know or that you feel is irrelevant to your needs. It’s more gritty and you only have yourself to depend on.

Being taught is good because it lets someone else challenge you, you have another mind that opens you up to things you may not have thought about. However, it can have the downfall of dependency.

I prefer a little bit of both… I love being taught by my peers and learning on my own…

The Unconsidered Third Option

And though we did not actually leave room for a third option, one was offered by a couple of our commenters. They posed that the best way to fully know a subject, was to teach it! Though it was not offered as one of our original choices, we still felt it should be mentioned for those gave it as their answer.

Richard – Teaching is definitely better than learning, becuase it generally encompasses both. Unless you already know your subject inside out then teaching is the best (and scariest) way to learn something new. Many times I have heard of schoolteachers being one page ahead of their students.

Here Endeth the Lesson!

…But the discussion always lingers. Let us know your thoughts either here in the comments, or in the original post. Either way, do not feel like the topic is closed.

Rob is the talented author and graphic designer, celebrated podcaster and poet, who is now the co-editor and imaginative co-contributor of Fuel Your Creativity. With a background working through most areas of the arts, Rob works from a creative wellspring that shows no signs of running dry.


If you liked this article, please help spread the news on the following sites:

  • Bump It
  • Blend It
  • Bookmark on Delicious
  • Stumble It
  • Float This
  • Reddit This
  • Share on FriendFeed
  • Clip to Evernote