Archive for September, 2008

Finding a voice

I’ve been thinking about the idea of ‘finding a voice’ as a part of learning. It’s mentioned a few places in our readings and also has been mentioned in class and I must say it’s taken a bit to get a sense of what this means. I can see how the voice has various stages or ways of being as we can find in Women’s Ways of Knowing. However, I’ve been trying to see how this can fit in other contexts of learning.

This week I had an opportunity to have another perspective. I substituted for 2 days in a 6th grade English class and part of the assignments were for the class to journal. One set of classes had clear instructions, but another didn’t and they said their teacher hadn’t covered this yet. I tried to get some more direction how to handle this, but nothing was available. So, I winged it! They were reading the Greek story of Ulysses (quite adventurous, you could say, among other things) and so I just asked them to write about something that happened over the summer – something interesting or adventurous.

A couple of the kids were a little stuck and couldn’t think of anything. One said she got lost in the woods while playing with her brother, so I suggested she reflect on how that happened and how she felt when she thought she was lost and then how she felt when she found her brother, etc… Another said he went to see his grandparents in New York and while there, he went to a Yankees game. So, I suggested he write about what it was like for him to go to the Yankees game.

As the classes went along with their journaling and I occasionally checked on them, I began to get a deeper sense of the concept of finding a voice. What a great way for each child to begin to reflect on something that was significant to them! Perhaps they’ll see it in a different light. Perhaps they’ll find a deeper meaning in something that they experienced. Surely, each one will respond differently to the process.

I know it’s a process to become more clear and authentic about what’s going on within our own selves. Know Thyself, so it is! I got a nice charge off considering that such an activity could start them on their way to knowing themselves.

Does learning transfer

I found the article about situated learning facinating. It connects for me that we often learn something related to social settings a tools involved. It’s interesting that with the copier technician story that the people in charge of training weren’t able to see the value of the technician’s experience and integrate that into some kind of knowledge base or resource. Of course, perhaps that’s happened by now.

I’ve seen the situation where there is a manual and guidelines to follow, but then many many situations/scenarios don’t fit in any of the prescriptions or scenarios in the manual. So, often there is another way to try and resolve the problem/situation, etc and this is rarely documented or may not even be encouraged. Yet, the people do find some way to go forward to the best of their ability and with their best judgment (which may include suggestions from friends, colleagues, etc.).

I also found interesting the other case studies – the milk cases and math in the grocery store. There seems to be the idea that learning doesn’t transfer and some evidence given. I find it interesting that the way they tested if learning transfered was to compare the math they learned in situ on the job to a sit down written math test. To me that doesn’t necessarily test if learning transfers. I would like to see a test where there was a different scenario, or different tools, to see if with different tools and a different situation (that was clearly not connected to their original learning situation) there might be some transfer. Maybe such learning is tacit rather than being congitive and in another scenario, with different tools, it might come out.

Such scenarios seem to fit well with the idea of action learning/action research, or what little I know of it anyway. As I understand it action learning/research is set up so that you bring together people who have issues, experiences, etc and the group facilitates deepening the knowledge or perhaps even helping to resolve some of the issues at hand.

It will be interesting to look at my ‘espoused theory’ and my ‘theory-in-use’.

More on learning theories

I can see now that the various learning theories really are different views on the whole aspects of how we learn – each having their own validity, but perhaps not giving the full picture. It has helped me to become more familiar with the differing views. I feel like I now have bigger picture of the various ways we can learn.

The idea that these are all just ‘lenses through which we can view an aspect of reality’ was a helpful way to look at it for me – “The 5 lenses are just a metaphor – ways to talk about reality which we may not be able to fully describe.” Joe Maxwell, “Reality does exist, but we need different lenses to approximate it.”

‘Reality’ hmmm…

The Social Cognitive theory is interesting. I recall reading about Bandura in the book Influencer and the effect of vicarious learning in bringing about social change. I remember where an example was given where a radio show was used in Tanzania to help shift cultural norms such as domestic violence and also bring up the awareness of AIDS which was a taboo subject there (as in many cultures). The idea that we can learn from others experiences seems valid – at least we may shift our perceptions or beliefs which could then lead to a change in our actions or behavior. This is where the idea of mentoring comes in. HR development also has strong roots in the social cognitive theory.

And then there is Constructivism. This area of thought seems so broad. However, this idea seems to resonate well with my own thoughts on learning, so far – the idea that knowledge is constructed from within. I think I connect with the personal constructivism where experiences are provided to “induce cognitive conflict and that leads to new knowledge schemes”. Whereas the social constructivism is exploring through a group. I think I enjoy this process too. This seems to be where the structured exercises of the experiential learning process that I have participated in would fit in.

Theories of Learning

On facilitative learning…

I think I mostly subscribe to the Humanist theory of learning. The excerpt from Karl Rogers on facilitative learning really rang true to me. He describes the atmosphere of excitement when a group is transformed into a community of learners as being ‘beyond belief’. I think I have experienced something like this on occasion with groups. It is really extraordinary when there is a palatable sense of openness, trust, curiosity and exploration in a group. It seems to me opportunity for learning deepens in such an atmosphere. I recall a statement by Blake and Mouton (I think) that said “we learn when we are emotionally open”. That really struck me and has stuck with me and it’s a goal for me to create such an atmosphere in a learning situation.¬† Rogers seems to elucidate a way to facilitate this atmosphere… It’s exciting to explore this further.

What rubs me a bit with the Behaviorism theory is that the source of knowledge is from outside or ‘the experts’ and that you simply need to control the environment and everyone will get it. It seems this approach is a bit autocratic and does not respect the individual’s potential. I guess I am revolting a bit against this approach because it seems mostly uninspiring. I do realize that ‘measurable change’ is something that is goal, but I feel it’s important to consider the person. If learning indeed takes place when we are emotionally open, then it would be important to consider how to create (or facilitate the creation of ) this environment.

And yes, I realize that Behaviorist and Cognitive learning theories also play a role in our learning – sometimes we do have to learn something practical… & understanding the thought process that underlies learning can be very valuable. I’m interested to now learn more about the 2 other theories – Social Cognitive and Constructivist (I think this is more experientially based – that’s in this week’s reading…)

I’m excited to be exploring the various aspects of adult learning in a more formal way. It really begins round out some of the knowledge and experiences I’ve had in the past 10-15 years in adult education, which I came participate in with little formal training. There is something to be said about ‘learning by doing’ – I seem to really get it at another level when I actually have to put something into practice (and it seems to be a continual and cyclical process). However, it’s also facinating to be exposed to the experience and thinking of many who have worked and studied the field for a long time.

First Impressions – on learning about adult learning

Context for Adult Learning

Participation in a Community – It struck me when the idea came up that “learning is about participation in a community”. There are so many contexts for learning — so many areas of life where we are faced with the unknown and have the opportunity to stretch our boundaries in many aspects – emotionally, intellectually, socially and also spiritually… I’m not quite clear about the implications of this concept yet, but it is intriguing to reflect on and further explore.

Barriers to Learning – There are so many parameters when considering barriers to learning. One that struck me as part of our discussion was how often there are internal barriers that participants can put up, especially when a learning event is considered mandatory in an organization. In such a setting there can often be a feeling of dread from people who have to come… ‘oh, God, another boring workshop or training…” It seems people often feel that there may be nothing relevant for them or that they’ve already done it all. Especially, if there are those with a lot of experience in a certain area there can be the sense that, ‘I already know all this stuff… what can I learn from you?’ There can also be challenges for people to work in group settings – they may be shy to contribute in large groups or speak out over others. Of course, the varied types of activities can help with this: 1-1, small group, etc. (like we did in Class 2…).

Stories – Yes, stories are a powerful way to contribute to vicarious learning…

Class format: I enjoyed the format of the class – using media, reflecting, 1-1 or small groups and the large group too. Getting in to the small groups was a nice way to connect with others in the class. It was interesting to see impact of projected video¬† – it really adds a dynamic I haven’t experienced yet in a formal learning environment. Yes, I have seen video in a communications workshop and used video when doing public speaker training and seen the powerful effect of the participants response to seeing themselves, but somehow this seemed different. It was interesting to see it used in this context. I thought it was definitely effective in prompting reflection and discussion.

However, the last slide-show with all of the statistics seemed to be a bit overwhelming with information. Perhaps that was part of the point. The information age – ‘one week of the NY Times has more info than an average person would get in their lifetime during the 18th century…’, ‘computers will be able to have more power than the human brain in year so-and-so’, and more…

Human Being and the Machine: The main thing that struck me here was to consider what place the human being will have in such a context. What is unique about the human’s capacity to learn vs. the capacity of a machine to process data in some kind of logical way. Is is really possible for machines to duplicate or surpass the human being’s capacity for the higher values such as compassion, empathy, understanding, service, sacrifice and love… What’s so unique about these qualities of the human? Can they be attributed so something more than the chemical firing of neurons racing around the brain…? How about consciousness itself? What is consciousness? Where does it come from? Is is just a biological reaction or is there some higher aspect to it?

Is there something we can learn about consciousness and learning that can help us be better human beings?

Do I fit in???: It helped to see that there are some others in the class that are near my age and maybe one or two even older. I guess I still have a bit of anxiety about getting back into a formal learning environment – schedules, assignments , writing papers… It will be interesting to watch this unfold. I’m happy about the challenge. I think I will be stretched. I also am excited about the topics and enjoy the format and the way the class was conducted. I did feel comfortable in the class and felt OK about contributing and felt that I also had something of value to contribute…