You don’t even have to watch the whole movie to get the best line from Doctor Strange. Let me set this up (mostly spoiler free). Stephen Strange (Doctor Strange) ends up meeting with The Ancient One and she shows him some seriously awesome stuff. Here is the conversation they have.
Strange: How do I get from here to there?
The Ancient One: How did you become a doctor?
Strange: Study and practice—many years of it.
Oh, you thought this post was going to be about the physics of magic in the Marvel Universe? Wrong. It’s about learning magic in the Marvel Universe. It appears that learning super hero magic is just like learning anything in real life—there are no short cuts.
Real Learning Is Difficult
Sometimes it’s easy for faculty to forget the struggles that we had when we were undergraduates. It’s easy to look at students and say, “Hey—these people just don’t get it because these concepts really aren’t that hard.” The real answer is that they aren’t complicated now and for us. But they are still complicated ideas. The big difference is that students have spent a few weeks on a topic, but I have looked at it for decades (literally true in many cases).
Let me give a few more examples.
- Playing the piano or really any musical instrument. You don’t just pick these things up and start jamming away (well, you do, but you sound silly). Instead you spend many hours practicing.
- Basketball or any sport. Dribbling a ball isn’t as easy as some people make it appear. They too were once terrible at basketball.
- Learning a language. Even your own native language took many years to master. I’m still trying to become fluent in English.
Even learning about learning takes time. You can’t just tell someone that students don’t learn by telling them stuff. But go ahead and try it yourself: That’s the only way you really understand it.
But What Can We Do About This?
It’s not what we can do about learning, it’s what we can’t do. We can’t make a magic pill that makes people learn, you can’t skip the hard work to get to real learning. In fact, it is the hard work that is the learning. Yes, it hurts and it’s confusing, but that’s the way it is.
There seems to be a common theme in education that tries to make learning fun. I think this is a little backwards. Instead, it should be that real learning is fun—but it still includes the struggle and the confusion. Just imagine this. You have a puzzle to put together, but it only has four pieces. Would that be much fun? People like puzzles that are challenging, and we should all embrace the challenge of learning.