A mission statement is a common element found in every academic institutions where I have worked. In my early days of teaching, I would stand in front of the elevator at the end of the day, laden with a cart full of objects, and stare at the mission statement for my school. The statement, created several years before I arrived, was an idea that I was to uphold. It was understood that it would best serve the needs of the community. I wondered if this statement, crafted with great care after hours of meetings, reflected the verbiage and ideas relevant to the community? This institution is not necessarily any different from any other in which I have worked. In all the planning, are the stakeholders, namely those of the community of educators, parents and students involved in the discussion and writing of a statement about them?
Design and Delivery of Adult Programs promises to be an incredibly useful course, one that is certain to establish a path for how to create and unfold a program from the beginning to the end! I enter this stage of my graduate studies with the understanding that I will relive the myriad of ways in which I have skirted through programs by the seat of my pants. I will be confronted with all of the errors made in good faith. I’ve offered numerous programs for both children and adults.Small after school activities, such as “Yarn Girls,” a program for elementary girls interested in learning how to knit required relatively little planning on my part. Three day events to Wallops Island the Eastern Shore of Virginia meant suffering one year through the beginning stages of pregnancy to the next year where I brought my infant son on a marine biology excursion with 7th grade life science students. The adults who accompanied me were warm and supportive. They marvelled at my tenacity years before Americans saw, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” in every shop. I reflect on those years of program planning with little or no experience and wonder how not only I survived, but how did the participants survive? (Thank goodness all of these programs occurred prior to Facebook, Instagram and text messaging.)
Dr. Rosemary Caffarella, in her short interview with Dr. Terry Carter, recalled an assignment that she gave to her students, “This I believe.” A clearly defined set of beliefs, she recalled, should be the basis for every educator’s practice. For surely, what one believes certainly affects one’s practice. With this idea in mind, I began to consider the informal learning and reading that I have done during the last year. The authors that I have read and several of the MOOCs that I have taken since January have not only influenced my beliefs, but have certainly challenged them! A smattering of ideas that have circulated throughout conversations, writing and hangouts this year contribute to the ideas below.
This I believe….about Adult Learners
- The “School of Hard Knocks” is probably the single most connective experience that joins all adults. Yes, some skirt around it while others wallow in the hard lessons learned as an adult. I believe that these knocks color one’s outlook on life and often shape the way an adult progresses. When developing relationships with learners, there’s always something that binds us, even if it’s not the most outstanding moment of our lives. I believe that experience shapes an adult. Informal learning is often more significant than formal learning. It’s important to acknowledge every experience and understand how it may guide the life and work of the adult. (No time limit on this schooling, as it is unfortunately on-going!)
- Years ago I discovered the work of Michael Gurian. His latest work, The Wonder of Aging, celebrates life after fifty! Imagine research that extols the virtues of wisdom that comes with age? Gurian segments the second half of life into three stages; The Age of Transformation, from the late 40’s until the early 60’s, The Age of Distinction, from the mid-sixties until age 80 and The Age of Completion, from 80 years of age until death. The ideas proposed in this work are important for me to consider as an adult educator. We life in a society where older adults can enjoy the benefits offered by senior centers, institutes for lifelong learning and volunteerism. I that as an educator, I believe that I can help aging adults through transformation to completion as Gurian suggests. I believe that older adults have so much to offer young people, yet they often speak disparagingly of themselves. Diversity is a politically correct term that peppers many conversations in higher education. I believe that diversity in learning and working environments should also encompass the inclusion of older adults in the workforce rather than the exclusion of them. Michele Woodward’s interview about Working Life After 50 is certainly worth the time to listen. (Don’t bother looking for this book in the library or the local bookstore, as it’s “out of stock” in all of the Barnes and Noble stores around my area!) (Read: August 2013)
- Life in a university town certainly certainly offers residents a wealth of resources. I spent the last two years as a public school educator participating in the CASTL (Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning) research program at the University of Virginia. One component of the research study asked me to respond to questions about my attitudes and perceptions about learning. A quick look at Carol Dweck’s quiz will provide an idea about how a teacher’s perceptions might “color” the behaviors of students. While I knew what the test hoped to uncover, I found that my answers often fell in either the the non-committal column. I just wasn’t sure about the statements asked on the survey that quite frankly resembled those on Dweck’s quiz. My ideas about learning and teaching experienced a shift as a result of her work. (Read: July 2013)
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle should really be read in tandem with Carol Dweck‘s work. Duke University used the first chapter of this book for a Coursera writing course. While many students shredded his ideas, I found that once I waded through the first two chapters that Coyle’s ideas were grounded in research and provided ideas about the concept of practice, dedication and most importantly mistakes. Adult learners have lived a lifetime either in fear of making a mistake or of paying for their mistakes. I used the example of knitting in my review of Coyle’s first chapter. The task really doesn’t matter, what matters is one’s mindset about effort and building myelin-that broadband that results when deep practice occurs. I spent two days knitting, ripping out and restarting a new project. The ideas proposed by Coyle make me believe that it’s worth my time to go back to the source of my mistake and to participate in deep practice. I learned the pattern…spoiler alert… for this year’s BFF Christmas presents! This ol’ dog continues to learn new tricks! (Building myelin also gives one a chance to keep those “choice” words polished and in working order, yes?) (Read: June 2013)
- My mentor is amazed at the number of social media and technology skills that I have cultivated at “my age!” While I laugh and tell her that I paid $2k to learn these skills, I wonder if her reaction is steeped in the myth of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants? If there’s one complaint that I have regarding work with adult learners, it is the common belief young people have technology skills because it comes naturally to them. I listen with patiently as adults provide a variety of reasons for their lack of knowledge. I remind them calmly about all of the technological changes that they have welcomed and enjoyed. Ah, yes, they nod. We have all enjoyed electric windows for years, electric garage door openers and keyless entry for our automobiles. My older teacher friends recall with fondness the days when we were required to wear stockings and heels in classrooms with no air conditioning, “Said no teacher ever!” (If you have teacher friends the someecards circulate FB with regularity.) So what makes the computer, a smart phone and social media so intimidating? One component of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures, a MOOC through the University of Edinburgh, was the discussion of Natives vs. Immigrants. The language is itself presents political challenges to so many people, yet the Marc Prensky’s ideas permeate the thinking of many adults. The connectivist approach to this on-line course fueled a global approach to discussions around concepts such as the meaning of digital prowess. A class colleague, Andy Mitchell, shared David White’s work, which provides a more accurate and graceful way in which to begin a conversation about digital literacy with adult learners. I believe that the emergence of social media presents many challenges for adult learners, one of which is a natural suspicion for anything linked with the internet. Connective theories of learning are exciting ways in which adults cultivate relationships at every stage of adulthood. (Coursera Class: January 2013)
This is an exciting time to be an adult learner. I’m transitioning through Gurian’s “Age of Transformation” as I look forward to this next segment of my graduate studies. I welcome opportunities to develop ideas about adult learners through traditional coursework, v, as I cultivate relationships globally through Massive Open Online Courses and while exploring facets of adult learning through the design and delivery of programs. Beliefs about learning, unlike mission statements, are fluid.