SPOT ON

Hands-on guide is a toolbox for learning skills improvement

Samuel Malone's Awaken the genius within is an adult learner's guidebook that promises learning skills development. 

Samuel A. Malone: Awaken the Genius within. A Guide to Lifelong Learning Skills. Glasnevin Publications 2014. ISBN-10: 1908689242

Are you an adult learner, educator or a professional interested in learning? Do you wish to learn about more effective reading skills or how to concentrate better at work or in your studies? If so, Samuel A. Malone’s Awaken the Genius within. A Guide to Lifelong Learning Skills (Glasnevin Publications 2014) could be the book for you. It presents a wide range of practical ideas and evidence on how learners can use their brains and many learning skills to their advantage.

The book comprises eight chapters, each of which deals with different sets of skills: brain skills, concentration, reading skills, learning maps, learning from mistakes, lifelong learning skills, memory and learning and creativity. Many of the chapters are also interlinked: for example, learning maps are presented as devices that help the learner in making sense of a variety of texts, or as a tool for revision and recollection.

Each chapter presents plenty of applied research results, combining them with anecdotes and other evidence linking a particular phenomenon to real-life situations, mainly in the business world. There are also plenty of examples and ideas for the learner to improve each set of skills. This is where the writer’s extensive experience as an educator shows: his ‘what works’ examples are plentiful and interesting.

Malone is particularly keen on memory skills and emphasising the use of mnemonics such as acronyms, and presents not only many known ones, but also an impressive range of new ones he has designed himself. The encouraging, practical tone that runs throughout the book should be pleasing for adult learners in particular, many of whom may lack self-assurance when pursuing studies, especially if after a long break.

Nonetheless, some of the instructions are slightly rhetorical, e.g..: “Reframe your attitude by looking on mistakes as learning opportunities rather than sources of frustration.” (p. 122)

Even though this book is more practical in its orientation than theoretical, the parts where the adult learner is taken into consideration are the most interesting. For instance, the chapters on reading skills and learning maps invite the adult learner to make use of his or her prior experience when studying texts and creating learning maps. Here the book is at its most useful for learners.

There are a few things that are missing, though. For example, there is very little on the social aspects of learning. Peer learning, cooperative learning, eLearning through coproduction and problem-based learning, to mention a few methods that draw on socio-constructivist learning theories, have gained importance in the world of lifelong learning, but many skills that are closely related to such learning processes (such as negotiation) are not discussed in this book, at least not in any detail.

Also, almost all the practical examples in the book are also taken from the business world with a few exceptions representing the world of politics. This reflects the writer’s long experience, but from a non-formal adult education perspective this can be seen as a limited view of lifelong learning, which is, as also is stressed in chapter six of this book, life wide in nature. Hence, this book will probably find an audience in companies, and it would probably make suitable reading for HR professionals.

As a lifelong learning practitioner and researcher, I was also left wondering about the structure of this book. Lifelong learning is dealt with as a set of skills and as a chapter in the middle of the book (ch. 6) rather than as an all-encompassing educational approach that either sets the foundations of the book or as a summary bringing the different strands of information together. This is done in spite the evidence and ideas presented about, for example, adult learners’ unique needs, social barriers to learning (such as disadvantage) and other issues that make lifelong learning a matter that extends from personal motivation and skills to the politics and philosophy of learning. There are, of course, skills and competences like learning to learn that lay the foundation for lifelong learning, but personally I would have written chapter 6 as an introduction.

Despite these few matters of preference, this book offers plenty of useful information in a concise, accessible form. It makes good reading for anyone looking for practical ideas for improving their learning skills. Accessibility also concerns the language Malone uses – this book is written in a style that advanced second-language English speakers will enjoy as well.

Read more reviews:

Ted talks – are they truly inspirational or just high-level entertainment?

Ted talks – inspiration or stand up?

The online education resource Khan Academy is a global phenomenon. Anders Norberg reviews Salman Khan’s 2012 book-manifest.

A blended review: The One World School House