I’ve been reflecting on my personal experience in education lately. Over the course of my adult life I have taken numerous courses that have interested and appealed to me, and overall I have done very well in them. This was not always the case. I struggled in the public school system, barely passing high school and not completing my first foray into college in my teens.
I immigrated to Canada with my family from the UK when I was 12 years old and was placed into grade 8. There were definitely differences in the two systems and I found that I was ahead in some things but behind in others. Ironically, one of these subjects in which I was behind was English. Through reflection, reading and talking to others, I have come to the conclusion that it is all about my learning style.
We know from research that there are three basic learning styles: Visual, Auditory and Tactile. I discovered that when I was able to play with something, feel it, see how it worked, I did a lot better than when I had to sit and listen to a lesson, or had to memorize something. The example I often use is my experience in grade 12 where I almost failed math but achieved over 90% in physics. They are both basically math, however in the physics class we got to play and experiment with models to figure out the math, versus just sitting in rows in the math class doing exercises on paper. As a child I wanted to grow up to be an architect. Why? I think it is because as a child I spent hours building model houses out of Lego blocks, designing spaces and figuring out how a house would work. Again playing with concrete objects helped me learn. Unfortunately the education system I was in did not allow for that style of learning, and so I struggled.
In my early twenties, as a retail store manager for a large national chain I started to recognize that I could use some additional tools. I was motivated by the realization that I needed to know more about managing people, and by my desire to advance within the company. So I enrolled in a management development program in the local community college’s continuing education department. It was an eye opener. I really enjoyed the subject, the instructor and the other learners. I loved how the instructor pulled learnings from his own experience to make a point and how there was no perceived concern about going off the lesson plan if a discussion erupted on a particular topic of interest to everyone. Since then I have enrolled in numerous courses (too many to list here) cumulating in my achieving an MA in Leadership from Royal Roads University in 2012. And it continues…
Here is what I have learned about adult learning and why as an adult, I believe I have done a better job learning (with some help from the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network – http://www.literacy.ca/professionals/professional-development-2/principles-of-adult-learning/)
- I wanted to learn. Adults learn effectively only when they have a strong inner motivation to develop a new skill or acquire a particular type of knowledge.
- I am motivated to learn by a perceived need to “know”. Adults are practical in their approach to learning; they want to know, “How is this going to help me right now?”
- I learn by doing. Active participation is more important among adults. Adults need to be able to use these skills immediately so that they see their relevance.
- I can learn better when I can recognize an issue and how it is affecting me personally or those around me. Adults start with a problem and then work to find a solution. Identify what the learner can do, what the learner wants to do and then address the gaps and develop practical activities to teach specific skills.
- I am able to draw on my experiences to make the learning relevant. Experience affects adult learning.
- I learn much better in an informal, collaborative and relaxed setting. Often, adults learn only what they feel they need to know. Involve adults in the learning process. Let them discuss issues and decide on possible solutions. Make the environment relaxed, informal and inviting.
- I look for collaborative thinking and opportunities to research for answers. Adults want information that will help them improve their situation. They do not want to be told what to do. They want to choose options based on their individual needs. Present options, not instructions.