Monday, January 23, 2017

My Core Beliefs About Adult Learning (CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

What are the core beliefs about adult learning and development that guide your practice as an adult educator?

This is the question that our facilitator posed for us for Week 1 of a course on 'Adult Learning and Development ' that I am undertaking with the University of Victoria as a part of the 'Certificate in Adult and Continuing Education/CACE' program. Week 1 is all about understanding our frames of reference (FOR). He explained that 'We think from our beliefs every day as they guide our practice as adult educators; but we too infrequently think about them.'

I must admit that I had not really thought about my core beliefs in a long time. This exercise was all about developing a critical rationale for my practice as an adult educator. I was expected to state my top 5 beliefs, elaborate on their meaning and share how the belief impacts my thoughts, feelings, attitudes, perspective and/or behaviour as an adult educator.

This was a powerful reflective exercise for me and I thought I might be able to start a dialogue with others by sharing my beliefs on my blog. 

My top five fundamental beliefs about adult learning and development are:
  1. I believe that life experiences are critical to learning.
Elaboration: Adults accumulate a wealth of knowledge and life experiences. These positive and negative experiences provide connections between old and new learning. Adults appreciate when this knowledge and experience is respected and the value that participants bring to the training is recognized.

I use prior knowledge and skills as a hook or a context for participants as they process new knowledge. I draw out the wisdom that exists in the room by asking participants to think about what they already know and how their existing knowledge can be applied in new situations. This linking of new material to existing knowledge and experience creates a powerful and relevant learning experience. I am currently designing a training program on customer service skills. One of the activities that I plan to begin with is to ask participants to recall their own experiences of receiving good and/or bad service and identify the characteristics of those customer service experiences. I will then encourage them to draw on these experiences as they relate to the topic.
  1. I believe that adults learn when things are relevant to them.
Elaboration: Adults learn when the material is significant to them and to their current lives. If adults do not see the immediate relevance of the content, they quickly figure out that they don’t need to know it.

As an adult educator, it is important for me to answer the ‘WIIFM’ (What is in it for me?) question on behalf of my participants. Adults want their learning experiences to be relevant, to meet their needs and to help them achieve their goals. When a learning experience demonstrates these characteristics, participants find the learning process more valuable. One of the ways I am able to apply this principle is by having clearly defined goals, objectives, and agenda for the training. Early in the training, I try and highlight to the participants how the training will help them achieve their goals.
  1. I believe that knowledge is constructed in a social context.
Elaboration: Adults need dialogue and social interaction to learn and knowledge is co-created by a community of individuals. Collaborative learning enables participants to use their shared experiences to build upon concepts in ways that are not possible through instruction.

Because of this belief, I have a positive attitude towards social and collaborative learning, which brings me to online CACE courses. I appreciate online discussion forums that enable other participants to add their thoughts to my reflections. When I design learning based on this principle, I create a respectful and open climate and ensure that everyone is treated equal in the learning process. I create structured projects where participants work together. I encourage participants to feel accountable and try to foster an environment in which participants feel free to exchange ideas that are different and leave the room with new shared meanings.
  1. I believe that adults learn by doing.
Elaboration: Adults learn best when they are engaged with the content and are actively involved in the learning process. This happens when they get opportunities to apply what they are learning to solve real-life problems. 

One of the biggest challenges in adult learning and development is bridging the gap between learning and application. The way I see it, learning is not about knowing; it is about doing. When I design training programs, I am conscious of this and focus on the outcomes of learning and what the participants will be able to do at the end of the training. I use examples, scenarios and problem-solving activities that allow participants to apply their learning and see the connection between what is being taught and how it applies on the job.
Recently, I was involved in the design and development of foremen training at various ports in Vancouver. We (jointly with my colleague) implemented a design, which was centered on key tasks that foremen perform on a daily basis. We identified the expected performance standards for each task and the underlying knowledge and key behaviours that must be demonstrated. There was no classroom training and all learning happened on-the-job where foremen performed key tasks and a more experienced mentor provided feedback, direction and support based on the expected performance standards.
  1. I believe that failure is critical to learning.
Elaboration: Learning involves trial and error. True learning happens when participants try to do something and they fail. This expectation failure, when things turn out different from what is expected, is when participants learn.

I have been influenced by this belief around learning from mistake and failure. We learn when we reflect on our mistakes and strive to find better ways. I have designed several learning experiences built around mistakes that participants are likely to perform on-the-job. To scope the training, I focus on 20% of mistakes that cause 80% of problems; critical mistakes. I use task-based scenarios that challenge underlying assumptions and provide an opportunity to make mistakes in a safe environment (instead of on the real job). I program the experience in a way that if the participant makes a mistake, they are prompted to review specific, supporting knowledge and feedback. The participants are then taken back to the scenario where they attempt to select the best way forward based on the new found knowledge. 

What do you think about my beliefs? Do you agree/disagree? 

I pose the same question to you now:

What are your core beliefs about adult learning and development that guide your practice as an adult educator?