Creative learning: why it's worth taking a class


I am slightly obsessed with learning. I was the only kid in my grade one class who was excited about homework. I couldn't wait to get to university to take classes on theoretical physics and African history pre-colonization. As my boyfriend can attest (he had to implement a 'no books in the bed' rule when I moved in), I usually am nearing the maximum number of books my library will allow because I want to read every book written about all the subjects I'm interested in - of which there are many. Constant learning has been essential to the growth of my creativity. Learning helps us grow, and growing is energizing. It gives us new ideas to play with, new methods of exploring those ideas, and new ways of seeing ourselves and the world we live in.

I've satisfied my thirst for knowledge and understanding in many different ways, from formal education, to library books, to courses and workshops (in person and online), from extensive Google searches in my living room to immersive hands-on explorations on other continents. I love teaching myself - I learned to speak Spanish and to swim with more ease and efficiency without an instructor - and I tend to try to figure things out on my own before asking anyone for help. I often get to the point, however, when I know that I can't get farther on my own steam and need to take advantage of the work that someone else has done to become an expert.

While it can be satisfying to figure out how to do something using YouTube videos, there are times when it's really worth it to sign up for a workshop or a class and learn with an instructor. Here are some advantages I've found in classes over library and internet learning:

Paying someone to force you to do something you won't do on your own. I took a playwriting class in university because it was something I had always wanted to try but never put any time into. Paying for someone to give me assignments meant that I finally got my butt in gear. And the play that I wrote in that class was produced twice, so it was a great introduction.

Resources you might not have access to otherwise. One of the biggest reasons that I studied drama in university and not art is because it's not the sort of thing you can do in your living room. Going through the theatre program I was able to use professional stages, learn about lighting, build huge sets, and collaborate with my classmates, all of which are things that I wouldn't have had access to if I had tried to do it on my own. On a much smaller scale, my art workshops can give you the same access to resources since I don't force you to buy supplies. You can try it out without investing a ton up front.

The information you want may not yet be in books or on the internet. When I was planning on going to South America I had a hard time even figuring out where to go to learn weaving, never mind finding detailed tutorials on YouTube. Learning the Andean styles of weaving required me to go to Peru and Bolivia and find instructors. I could never replicate what I learned from books because they just don't exist. The knowledge is in the women's hands.

Connections with other students and the instructor. I've developed friendships in belly dance classes that I wouldn't find watching tutorials online. And I had an amazing moment with a woodblock printmaking instructor in Turkey: he was telling me - through a translator - that he teaches classes to people who don't usually make art. I told him that I do the same thing and that I love the feeling of helping people do something they didn't think they could. As soon as my comment was translated, he broke out in a big smile and nodded yes, yes that's it exactly. It was a magical moment.

Personal feedback. Before I went to Cairo I hunted down a couple of American dancers who had been living there for many years and who knew Egyptian dance inside and out and I booked private lessons with them. These were terrifying since there was nowhere to hide when they asked me to dance, but so valuable. One of them pointed out reasons why my dancing never looks as polished as I would like and gave me concrete things to work on. It was a huge help.

Pushing your limits. I never thought that I could draw things from my imagination. I have a hard enough time drawing from real life. Recently I took a woodblock printmaking workshop where we were asked to draw a character from our lives to put on a large block with the characters from the rest of the class. I really didn't think I could do it. I tried 3 times but couldn't make the person look right. If the teacher hadn't given me feedback and told me to try one more time, I would have given up. In the end it took 5 tries but I finally got it and was so happy with the results.

Saving time. You could spend hours and hours scouring the internet for the information you want, or you could take one class that has everything neatly packaged and clearly laid out. This was a big reason I chose to spend a lot for an online business course: there was so much to learn that it was overwhelming, and I figured it would simplify things to just pay someone to lay it all out for me.

It makes you a better teacher. I take all my learning experiences into consideration when I plan my own classes. I think about what made me feel good vs. what stressed me out, what helped me understand vs. what confused me, and what makes me want to learn more.

My desire to learn only seems to grow and with it, my desire to share what I've learned. That's why I write this blog, and why I teach the art techniques that bring me joy. I try to use what I've learned about learning to inform how I share information and interact with students.

Are you an independent learner like me, reluctant to put your learning in someone else's hands? What makes you finally decide to take the leap? What experiences have you had that have made it worthwhile? Leave a comment below.

And for bonus points: What do you look for in an art workshop specifically? Is there anything that you're dying to learn? (I'm always looking to expand my offerings and improve my existing ones!)