18 November 2013

Reading the book is just the beginning – Do you know how you learn best? Using Mastering Genealogical Proof as an example ... guest post by Shannon Combs-Bennett

As genealogists we are always learning.  There is continually something new to see, hear, or do which could aid us in our research.  See, hear, or do.  Did you know that those are the three main ways people learn?  People are visual, auditory, or kinetic learners in general.  Do you have an idea which one fits you the most? If you do, then it should be easy to figure out what is the best way for you to digest complex information for your genealogical research.

For example, I am mainly a visual learner with a small kinetic portion.  I know that I do not do well with auditory learning.  This means I like to draw things out, make color coded diagrams, and sometimes act things out.  When I read a journal article, attending a lecture, or read an educational text I actually write and draw in the margins with different colored pens or pencils and draw pictures or diagrams.  These are the tricks I learned in college (you know when most of us actually learn how to study) that helped me.  They were the same techniques I used when I read the new book by Thomas W. Jones Mastering Genealogical Proof. 

This is a great book.  If you don’t have it, you should. However, I had a difficult time getting through it.  There was a significant amount of information combined with a number of terms that I was only vaguely familiar with.  However, when you really want to know something you will figure out a way to learn it. So I did.  Out came my colored pens, sticky tabs, and highlighter.  Writing things out in my own words, drawing diagrams that I created, and making it colorful was exactly what I needed to do.

However, what if you are struggling with a concept and you are not a visual learner like me?  Never fear, you have options too.  Kinetic learners like to learn through doing.  Make sure you take breaks, build a physical model, or use flash cards.  Auditory learners do best when they hear things.  You should read passages out loud to yourself, explain the problem to someone else, or get involved in a study group.

Let’s look at how three different learners could approach learning a concept in the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).  How about creating research questions?  Stating a good research question is the key to conducting excellent research and keeping us on track.  While the concept is simple to grasp for most people, it is also made up multiple parts that lock together which then create the perfect question.  Think about it for a second, how would you break apart this concept into usable chunks? If you have the book, look through chapter 2 of MGP to get some ideas on what you would do.

I created a flow chart on paper with colored pens, shapes, and arrows.  This not only helped me remember the concepts, because I wrote them all out, the diagram also gave me a picture to remember when I wanted to recall the concepts later.  It was simple, not overly complicated, gave me the main ideas, and fit on one page.  Cheat sheets should be also be compact since you want to keep them handy.  I am a bit, well, compelled to take my chicken scratches and turn them into flow charts on my computer.  Nice, neat, and ordered; just the way I like it.  Then I can carry them on my iPad and have them with me when I need them.

For kinetic learners I would suggest creating a fill-in chart, like a memory game, to help learn the concepts.  You can create one on your computer; print it out, laminate it, and then using a dry erase marker practice filling it in. Flash cards that could be fit together in the correct order like a puzzle would also be good.  Both ways puts the information in front of you so you can learn the concept through creating it.  Some kinetic learners also have success with flowcharts.  The act of creating it helps you remember what you are trying to internalize.

Auditory learning is more challenging but not impossible.  To learn these concepts I strongly encourage you to join a study group, even if it is one or two friends you get together with over coffee every couple weeks.  Or heck, call them on Google+ and chat if your genealogy friends are scattered!  Talk it out with your friends and colleagues or take turns teaching a concept to each other.  Creating a mnemonic that will aid you in remembering the key elements of the concepts would also be good.

Most of all don’t be afraid of recreating the wheel.  Sure, there are tons of cheat sheets and aides out there, but they may not be the right one for you.  If you have one you like, great!  You are lucky and you should use it until it falls to pieces.  However, if the one you get the best use out of is scribbled on the back of a napkin from your favorite café, keep the napkin in a safe place and use it instead. 

Shannon Combs-Bennett is a writer for the In-Depth Genealogist and the Youth Education Chair for NGGN.  In addition she has her own blog, Trials and Tribulations of a Self-Taught Family Historian [http://tntfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/], where she talks about her family research, interesting items in the genealogy world, and anything else that interests her. You can also follow Shannon on Twitter @tntfamhist and on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/TntFamilyHistory].


Editor's Note: This is the first in a planned series of periodic posts by Shannon on tools/approaches to learning important for genealogists and family historians.

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