A few years back in another blog post I explained the best way to use recordings that you make of your lessons. I think what I wrote was useful, but more recently, I have had insights into the learning process that seem to point to a surprising conclusion: in many cases, it may be more productive not to record your lessons.
Caveat: I am not intending this post to represent the entire truth. I know that many people use their lesson recordings in a way that forwards their progress. If this is you, feel free to keep on doing what you’re doing. But see also if something in this post awakens a new understanding for you and makes you want to try a different way from time to time.
2 reasons to refrain from recording
Let’s take each of these ideas in turn:
You’ll pay attention differently when the tape is not running. Learning happens in a moment—which moment can not be predicted in advance—in which you are paying attention with the fullness of your senses and with a quiet mind. This set of circumstances is more likely to congeal when the stakes are higher, such as when you invest money and time to come to a lesson. If your system “knows” that it has only this one chance to experience learning, it will stay primed for the magical moments. When you hit Record, it’s like telling your brain not to worry, you can always go back and hear anything you missed. (It doesn’t matter whether or not you ever listen back to the recording; the unintentional checking-out from full attentiveness at the actual lesson has already happened.)
This means that you are at risk of missing whatever precious moments of new understanding arise during your lesson. And it seems to me that you are furthermore unlikely to capture such a missed moment on listening to your recording. Once you get home, you are not likely to attune yourself in that potent way that we do together in your lessons. (Getting help falling into this state of acutely heightened susceptibility to learning, by the way, is why we take lessons in the first place. I am not sure this fact is acknowledged by most students and even teachers.)
I’ve noticed the difference between live and recorded learning for myself recently, as I’ve been taking an online course that sometimes conflicted with my teaching schedule. On the days in which I attended live, I found myself deeply absorbed by the conversations happening between the teacher and the other students. When I watched classes on replay, however, my mind had a greater tendency to wander and I felt less a part of the learning experience. (Still, I appreciated having an option to watch a class I would otherwise have had to miss totally.)
If you’re old enough to have watched network TV shows both on first airing and, later, in syndicated reruns, you’ll know what I’m referring to here. Once upon a time, you had one chance to catch a show. There was a sense of occasion to such a broadcast that made TV feel almost as engrossing as live theater; you could feel a heightened connection to the material that did not happen when you watched a similar show in reruns. Even that word, rerun, has come to have a negative connotation: tired, ubiquitous, not crucial, dull. We recognize at some level that the recorded experience lacks the impact of the one-off.
By recording a lesson, you’re potentially degrading the in-person experience you’re paying for in exchange for a later recorded experience that can’t match the intensity or productivity of the original.
Learning doesn’t work the way we’ve always assumed it does. For most of my life of learning and teaching, I considered that lessons and classes were primarily valuable as opportunities to absorb knowledge from the instructor. Under this paradigm, the teacher dispenses some information which the student hears and adds to her own store of data. There is a lot of validity to this point of view: most of my school education consisted of hearing or reading facts which I then regurgitated for the tests. I am skilled at this process: I was high school valedictorian and got accepted into an Ivy League college from which I graduated with honors. Only now I couldn’t pass most of those tests. Where did the “learning” go?
Luckily for me (and my students), a completely different type of learning gradually overtook the “fact-transfer” method in my education. Now I realize that this is where the real, valuable, lasting learning takes place: when, by listening to a teacher, I have an insight that causes me to see reality in a new light and sparks a curiosity for further exploration on my own.
A shift in how you see the world is not like a fact in that you can’t forget it. And you don’t need to work on it or memorize it—it just happens. And then you’re never the same.
We do exercises at your lessons for many reasons. But the main reason, to my mind, is that it gives me a chance to put you in a situation in which you are able to see something that you hadn’t seen before. To understand something—perhaps something not expressible in words—in a new way. So that you, at a deep level of your being, change. Then, when you go out into the world, your new way of seeing causes you to see even more new things and creates new opportunities to learn on your own.
For most of us (certainly for me), new insights are more likely to happen out of our work with others. The insight may come during a lesson or class, but it’s even more prone to happen later in subsequent practice sessions, or even while doing the dishes or taking a shower. The time with the teacher is the all-important catalyst for this process. For me, the face-to-face (live or online) experience is where the magic happens. There’s an intensity to our joint exploration that eclipses the possibilities of listening to a replay of a lesson. This may not be true for you, or even always true for me, but it feels accurate to me at some level.
Are you concerned that, in the absence of a recording, you may have missed a nugget of information? Don’t worry: the information, while of some value, is not crucial to your learning. In any case, I will probably say the same information hundreds of times during a course of lessons. Or you could find it in a book (or in my blog). But what no recording will ever capture is an aha moment. A feeling that your understanding just deepened. A wrenching shift in your view of reality after which nothing will every again be the same.
And if you had such a moment in your lesson, you won’t ever forget it. Having it on tape is superfluous.
Paradoxically, while writing this post, many reasons for recording lessons came to me:
And, if you find a way while listening to the recording to establish a multi-sensory awareness and a quiet mind