I’ve always been dismissive of people who grumble that learning is a chore.  It has the same effect on me as people who answer gloomily, ‘could be worse’ or ‘mustn’t grumble’ when I enquire about their health.  In an attempt to counteract the gloom, I immediately become abnormally cheerful claiming that learning is fun, exhilarating, motivational, the very purpose of our existence, the key to real fulfilment etc. Unwisely, I go on to boast that in my time I’ve learnt to make concealed dovetail joints, to fly light aircraft, to play a mean game of croquet, to paint pretty watercolours, to milk cows, to castrate calves three different ways, to write songs, to make articulated fish from wood picked out of skips – and many other impressive skills. 

But all these accomplishments pale into insignificance beside my attempts to learn to touch-type.

To be precise, I’ve met my come-uppance in the shape of Mavis Beacon.  Well, I haven’t actually met Mavis Beacon because, fortunately, she is virtual rather than real.  Mavis Beacon, as I’m sure you already know, teaches typing via a software programme.  No doubt the real Mavis Beacon is kind and cuddly and full of empathy for someone like me who is struggling to break a deeply ingrained habit; typing with just two index fingers.

The virtual Mavis Beacon, whilst spurring you on with the occasional, ‘relax, you can do it’ is, from my point of view, quite ruthless.  Why, she recently announced that my adjusted typing speed was one word per minute. A serious blow after previously reaching the giddy heights of 20 words per minute (though this might have something to do with the exercise being confined to the home keys).  I fear that soon she’ll have to calculate my performance in decimal points or fractions!

The problem is that Mavis fails to make allowances for what I consider to be mitigating circumstances.  These include:

  • Forgetting where C is but refusing to cheat by taking a surreptitious peep.
  • Concentrating so hard on remembering the location of various letters that I forget to use the space bar between words (this has a disastrous effect on the adjusted speed because, using some secret formula, Mavis takes accuracy into account).
  • Breaking off to take two rather lengthy phone calls with the clock still running.

Since no excuses melt Mavis Beacon’s heart, she still enters the damming statistics of my inadequate performance into a cumulative results chart. This serves as a permanent reminder of my incompetence – despite the fact that it is a clear case of conscious incompetence, making constant reminders quite unnecessary. Trust Mavis to find a way to rub salt into my wounds.

To be honest, it isn’t only Mavis Beacon who is getting me down. I’m surrounded by people who are unconsciously competent touch-typists – their fingers a blur as they move unhesitatingly (and accurately, damn it) around the keyboard.  My wife has been touch-typing – well, by the look of it, from birth (come to think of it, her mother could touch-type too so perhaps it’s an inherited characteristic!), my daughter touch-types and now, the final indignity, some of my grandchildren touch-type.

So, are there lessons to be learned from all this suffering?  There must be some because I always assume we can learn from anything, nice or nasty, and, as you’ve gathered, this is nasty. Certainly my experiences to date would seem to confirm the ‘no gain without pain’ school of thought.  But perhaps this is a premature conclusion since, as yet, there has been no gain, just pain.  The transition curve predicts that after denial (I’m way past denial!) things have to get worse before they can get better and that we need to survive short-term discomfort in the interests of longer-term gain.

Perhaps the biggest lesson for me is to appreciate that the learning curve, far from being a friendly gentle slope that I can take in my stride, can sometimes seem more akin to an overhanging rock-face with few finger holds.  Appreciating just how daunting learning can feel, reminds me how vital it is to put yourself into the learner’s shoes and lean over backwards to provide lots of support and encouragement (Mavis, are you listening?).  When people are struggling we should strive to make it as good an experience as possible so that the learning habit is reinforced and people don’t drop out at the inevitable, but perilous, stage where there seems to be a disproportionate amount of pain and an insufficient amount of gain.

Well, you’ve probably guessed; I typed this article all by myself.  Mavis Beacon if she had been watching (thank goodness she is virtual and not real) would certainly have been critical.  So that’s 820 words which, at one word per minute, works out at……. . oh dear!

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