Learning Wizard

Anne 2012-03-29

I have recently had the occasion of watching a learning wizard. I can’t remember when I had an occasion to watch someone learn. Typically, the courses I have taken have been with people who knew the material they were teaching. And on my first work project, we were finding our mistakes by the smell of burned electronics, seriously clamping down on creative interactive learning.

What struck me with this wizard is his ability to isolate an aspect of a problem, embed it in a simple model, and play with it, just act on the new model in different ways and observe the outcome until he has something approaching what is wanted.

What struck me equally was my resistance to this approach even though I could see it worked brillantly to learn maya 3D. My path to learning is motivation, goal. As I watch a ball swing on the screen, I want the color to change just when the two balls hit each other. I have a hard time separating my wanting the color to change from the circumstance in which the color is to change. To actually achieve my goal, I have to let go of it, and just learn how to change colors, the different ways color can change, link color to time, to a geometry, … and only after some practice of this kind can I go back to the embedded problem.

Where there is resistance, I suppose there is fear. Fear of loosing that motivation, that “I want” which propels me to come back again and again at the difficulty until -finally – it gives way. Fear apparently blocks the curiosity/surprise/exploratory way to knowledge. It craves a road map, a vision, a path on which to focus. When exploration -except in the safe confine of a tutorial – is associated with timelessness, unknown, aimlessness.

Indeed, exploration by itself cannot lead very far. Playing with simple models can only create simple animations. An abstract animation might be created with a sequence of random playful variations. But for some kind of narrative creation to occur, a combination of simple steps must be composed in a meaningful structured way.

The successful learning experience runs back and forth between the idea, the concept, the feel of a particular animation and the accidental findings of playful exploration. The mind must constantly seek and let go, never completely loosing track of the direction it is headed in, and yet constantly discarding ways which seem to dead-end. For Maya is not a logically constructed structure, it has its logic, but what it does and does not do was built in by the interaction of many programmers/users. Unlike mountain paths which must lead from some spot to some other spot, a particular path taken in Maya does not necessarily follow through over the pass to the nirvana thought after. Seeking many ways until one leads you over the pass is the way of learning in Maya, and maybe the way of learning in general.