5 minute read

This past week marks the end of Week 5 at Launch Academy.

My head hurts a little bit when I try to give a quick summary of all we’ve worked on. There’s so much!

At the same time, I see the runway towards the end of the program getting shorter and shorter…

So are we 5 weeks in? Or do we only have 5 weeks left?

Immersive Learning in the Short Term

I’m constantly weighing my learning experience here at Launch Academy – 10 weeks of coding – against my past immersive learning experiences in Tai Chi.

In 2011, I wrote this piece for a Tai Chi blog about the different cycles embedded in a month of Tai Chi Immersion.

Back then, one of the key takeaways for me was that you had to adop the right practice mindset.

By finding the optimal daily training rhythm, you can begin to manage your energy over a month, though you will also need to adopt a particular mindset to apply the different facets of this new practice in succession. How do you work on posture and alignment one minute and then flow the next?

The challenge of shifting gears like this is one thing I love about learning Tai Chi. Master Frantzis calls this process “separate and combine”. You have to train the first piece, without thinking about anything else, until it’s totally integrated into how you move, then you work the second one. There’s a leap of faith in between where you totally let go of the first piece before you switch to the second piece. In the moment, you can’t worry about whether you will ever be able to do them both at the same time. “Separate” means really separate, physically and mentally. This method opens up the possibility for much deeper integration, but the tricky part is, you don’t feel that way at first. The integration comes further down the road, in a place you can’t see yet.

At Launch Academy, we’ve been working through similar cycles and I truly believe that my previous experience with Tai Chi Immersion has helped me prepare to manage the flow of these cycles.

For example, we were writing database queries in SQL then ActiveRecord and you had to get your head around the right syntax and relationships between tables BUT THEN we would shift gears to Rails and focus on the structure of a web application.

If you were still down in the details of how to write a query, you’d miss the big picture differences between generating an output to the user, designing your database models, or directing traffic between them.

And it’s not just that you need to be able to hold a lot of layered concepts in your mind at once. That’s complex enough.

The skill you need to master in an immersive learning environment is knowing when to let go, when to leave something alone, and when to spend more time on it.

I’ve struggled with this a lot. Do I need to know this now? Should I work through a few more example problems on this topic?

Or worse, you pick your head up from the weeds and realize that you haven’t been productively working on this problem and the group has moved on.

I find, that give my previous experience, I’m much more willing to drop things and refocus to new problems, without worrying about what I’ve left behind.

Long Term Payoff of Immersion

Maybe “just dropping” something isn’t the right way to describe the immersive learning skill I’m talking about.

There’s a stage between not knowing something and knowing it cold and due to the pace and duration of this program, we’re swimming somewhere in between most of the time.

What you have to figure out in each subdomain that we touch is this: For now, am I acquianted enough with this concept to fit it into my mental model of the big domain, and do I know how to go deeper when I return to it in the future?

Every fall, when I came back from 2, 3, or 4 weeks of Tai Chi, I would set out on the real learning process: slowly unpacking the immersive experience, and digesting the material in small, sustainable bites, over the next year or more.

I was fortunate to have the structure of a teaching schedule and an audience to teach to, so I had to be deliberate about revisiting material and I had to articulate it clearly. Those constraints helped my practice grow enormously.

Immersive bursts of training were the seeds of my practice and the school was a garden where they could grow.

The big payoff of short term immersive learning doesn’t happen in the short term at all. It happens when the seeds of learning are allowed to grow over many seasons.

In Tai Chi terms, that was always clear to me. For coding? All I can tell you now is that I will have the chance to create the same garden, through a work environment, to let the seeds of immersion grow.

What’s exciting is that I don’t quite know what these seeds will yield!