"Information separates the world, Wisdom brings it back together" (author unknown)
Where, how and why does learning happen?
Every morning, I spend about forty-five minutes scrolling through posts on Instagram. Right now I follow a group of urban farmers, minimalists, travel bloggers, positive mantra posters, foodies, friends and family. Initially, I followed everyone until I got tired of seeing posts that didn’t resonate with me or my interests. That’s when I curated my insta with lifestyle postings that I could learn from and aspire to. Using my insta feed, my husband and I have eliminated most of the clutter from our lives and we’ve learned about creating and cultivating our own little vegetable garden that we plan to expand next year to include a few chickens. Seasoned urban gardeners, minimalists and wine connoisseurs from all over the world not only give us advice, but they expose us to things we never considered before. As a result, we are learning and we are transforming or lives in beautiful and tangible ways. I don’t think we would have done any of it if we had not been inspired and somewhat coached by my insta feeds. To me our new lifestyle is an example of the power of digital spaces and their ability to catalyze learning through the integration of experiences, perceptions, cognitions and new behaviors. Experiences like this helped me to form my own learning philosophy.
Why and how do we learn?
I believe , free people, free people and as I learn how to be free, I feel compelled to free others. My core motivations for learning are growing, thriving and freedom. For me, learning is inspired by what I can accomplish and create with the knowledge, skills and abilities I develop, and how they can increase the quality of my life and the lives of others. I believe learning is an innate human ability that can be enhanced in ways that lead to the attainment of happiness and freedom, particularly when guided and facilitated under the right circumstances and conditions. I believe learning happens in a myriad of ways; some learning may come easily, while other learning requires an all-out assertion of one’s mental capacities and a willingness to be challenged. I also believe learning can be sabotaged or hijacked by the emotional blocks and fear-based perceptions held by the learner, therefore learning should be holistic, taking an account of a learners cognitive and emotional capacities. As an adult learner and a facilitator of adult learning, my goal for both me and my students, is for all of us to reach the fifth level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Self-Actualization (Maslow, 1954). Self-actualization to me, is that place in life where I realize, I have the ability to live life authentically, and my own self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994) is strong enough to withstand the pull and demand of social constructs and norms and pushes me through towards the highest form of myself. I believe at the height of all learning journeys is the discovery of a free willed, autonomous self.
The Artist and the Art: The relationship between my learning philosophy and my teaching philosophy
In general, the relationship between teaching and learning is an important determinant to the way a teacher will address the act of teaching as a profession. To my idea, the relationship between a learning philosophy and teaching philosophy is a highly subjective relationship, because teaching is an art form that should be driven by each individual teacher’s learning philosophy and cultivated and refined by their teaching philosophy. The two together produce the teachers teaching style. A teacher’s teaching style, in the best-case scenario, is the artifact they create and contribute to the world, in the form of a practice, in the form of actively doing; the teacher’s learning and teaching philosophies are the driving force behind all of it. As a teacher thinks, a teacher creates. Teachers have the capacity to facilitate the creation of living art in their students. Just as painters and sculptors have their chosen style and medium, the ones they study, practice and seek to perfect; my chosen teaching style, based on my learning and teaching philosophies, is that of a Servant Leader (Greenleaf, 1977). As a servant leader, my job is to teach to the learning needs of my students with the goal of helping each student to grow, survive and thrive. I see myself serving by creating energetic and engaging learning environments that pull-out questions and pull-forth wonder. I see students as I see myself, unique and fully capable of growth, freedom and creativity.
I think; therefore, I am… René Descartes
As a learner, when I first approach a new subject, I can be pensive and somewhat anxious, while at the same time I am relentless and highly motivated to acquire new knowledge and mastery. I love research, historical facts in particular, and I can bury myself for hours on end reading the writings of folks who lived hundreds of years before me. I have many personal questions about learning and how I personally achieve it, such as: based on my individual human experiences, what is the most productive way for me to acquire and keep new knowledge; how will mastering learning impact my life and the lives of the people I teach; what is more important to learn, explicit information or where to find it, and how will I know when I am a master in any specific subject? These questions are a driving force in my life. This is what I think being a lifelong learner may be about – always building on my own ability to acquire knowledge, skills and capabilities that appeal to my true nature.
The primer and the paint
I believe the differences between a learning philosophy and a teaching philosophy, one is an answer to an internal question of values and the other is the answer to external questions of value. My learning philosophy is based on my own internal values as they pertain to learning. It represents the internal values I hold towards acquiring knowledge and mastering new skills and abilities for myself. It answers the questions of, why learning is important to me and why I continue to cultivate in myself, a predisposition towards lifetime learning. My teaching philosophy represents the contributions I believe will add value into the external world, by adding value to the lives of the people I teach. My teaching philosophy provides a moral, emotional and tactical blueprint for how I facilitate learning. My teaching philosophy grounds me in my commitment to doing what I set out to do, and that is to lead others to the knowledge that is most authentic to them through the facilitation of Transformative (Mezirow, 1991) and Experiential (Kolb D. , 2014) Learning based classes and by creating learning environments that best serve the learning needs of my students. So, to continue my art analogy, my learning philosophy is the primer that the paint, my teaching philosophy, can be applied to, my teaching practice is the resulting art. In my case, my art is learning environments that inspire creation and innovation in others.
I teach to create creators
Students are at times referred to as a blank canvas, adult students however, are anything but blank. Understanding that adult learners have a lifetime of experience that they bring to the learning environment with them means, as the teacher, instead of trying to manipulate change in them, I must allow them to transform themselves. My part in the transformation process is to give them the tools and space they need to engage in the transformative learning processes of self-directed learning, autonomy, and critical thinking (Cranton, 1994). By facilitating learning that allows students to reflect on what they know and then to introduce a new way of knowing what they know, I can help them to begin their own journeys of discovery. When I was an adult student at California, State University, Northridge, I had a professor who was an absolute genius at creating such an environment. The class was called Parenting it was a psych class. It was about, how people become who they are, and it begged the old question of nature vs nurture. Through out the semester, we students were presented with one real piece of evidence after another. There were studies on birth order and live interviews with twins separated at birth, there were role-playing experiments and lots and lots of reading. In the end, each person had to decide for themselves, based on a full body of evidence, which was most relevant in creating a person’s personality, nature or nature. This class changed my life. It was the most immersive class I had ever been a part of and it helped me to form a new way of thinking about who I am and why I am.
My Learning Philosophy and Leap, Learn and Live
Leap, Learn and Live is a program that will incorporate, social learning, constructivist and humanist theories to create learning environments that meet the needs of our students on as many levels as possible. Our goal is to make learning accessible to as many adult learners as possible within our demographic, low-income single-mothers. To do that, we need to keep an open mind and use as many learning tools as possible and present learning opportunities from multiple sources. Our social learning networks will address the need for social learning within the context of learning how to be in a social group and still maintain individuality. Experiential learning will take place on many fronts in our workshops, both online and face to face. The humanistic theory of learning will surface in all that we do, because the entire program is centered on helping student to grow and to be empowered. There are benefits to learning explicit knowledge, and to learning pragmatic skills and developing abilities. No two learners are exactly the same. It comes down to developing a learning program that allows for cognitive and experiential learning to happen in the most organic and authentic ways. Where one student might be more comfortable with acquiring specific knowledge, another might prefer to know how to find that same information when and if they need it. Again, there is a strong argument for both cognitive and experiential learning theories applied in a integrated manner as in experiential learning, a constructivist theory. In the end, we are student-centered and we will find the balance our students need.
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4,) (pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. Albert Bandura (Bandura, 1994) is the Social Learning theorist who introduced us to the concept of self-efficacy (1994). In this paper, he defined it as, “people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives”. According to Bandura, Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Those beliefs are the source of varied effects that manifest through four major processes: cognitive, motivational, affective and selection. The book explains how self-efficacy can enhance the accomplishments and well-being of individuals. He also talks through the idea that a person with high self-efficacy is more prone to see an obstacle as a challenge to be overcome rather than a problem to hide from. This idea is profoundly enticing to a teacher who serves a female community who are routinely marginalized and often suffer with self-doubt and insecurities.
Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Engelwood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. Experiential Learning theory as posited by D. A. Kolb (1984) a constructivist, holds for me the closest set of learning assumptions to my own. He makes the case that experiential learning is not an alternative learning theory, meant to replace behavioral and cognitive learning theories, it is the integration of experiences, perceptions, cognitions and behavior that makes learning holistic. In this assertion I completely agree with him. He also introduces the Experiential Learning Model (1984) that incorporates the cyclical processes of: Having a concrete experience (Do), Reflecting on the experience(Reflect), Forming abstract conceptualizations(Think) and Testing (practice). Kolb also believes learning is an ongoing process and is not based on a specific outcome (Kolb D. , 1984). On this topic, I am not in complete agreement because I believe a person knows if they have successfully learned to solve a math problem by generating the correct answer/outcome, and until they have learned to solve the math problem, they will have incorrect outcomes. So, while a student may be in the process of learning how to solve the problem, the correct outcome is how they will know they have learned to solve the problem. I find his thoughts applicable however to more intrinsic concepts like creating a work of art or fiction.
Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Brothers. Abraham Maslow, another humanist introduced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1954) Maslow believed in human motivation, and that human actions are directed toward attaining a goal, rather than the conditioning theories put forth by his Behaviorist contemporaries. Maslow has been a pivotal concentration of learning for me since my days in junior college when it was first introduced to me. Since those days, I have done a relatively large amount of independent research around it, and I have found connections between Maslow’s pyramid structure and P.D. Maclean’s Triune Brain (1990). The five levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs from the bottom to the top of the pyramid are: Safety, Security, Belongingness, esteem and Self Actualization By comparing the two, I can see which part of the brain is most actively involved as students move up Maslow’s pyramid. This is important to me as a teacher, because if I am to address the whole student as a learner, understanding how they are applying their attention to the learning can help with the develop more appropriate learning environments for them.
Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from esludwig.com: http://www.esludwig.com/uploads/2/6/1/0/26105457/transformative-learning-mezirow-1997.pdf Jack Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory (Mezirow, 1991) presents a theory based on how adults use their experiences to make meaning. His theory includes three dimensions: psychological (changes in understanding one’s self), convictional (revision of one’s beliefs), and behavioral (lifestyle revisions). As a late-bloomer/ adult learner, I underwent each of those dimensions and experienced my own transformation, as such, I am a witness to the power of such learning environments that allow for or are built for transformative learning.
Smith, M. (1999). Humanistic orientations to learning. Retrieved from The encyclopedia of informal education.: http://infed.org/mobi/humanistic-orientations-to-learning This site reviews all of the key theorist I used this information on Carl Rogers because I could not find an accessible copy of his book, The humanistic Orientation Towards Learning. This site presents Carl Rogers, as a humanist, and based on his passion for education he is another theorist with whom I share beliefs about learning. I agree with Carl Rogers’ explanation of a humanistic orientation to learning (Smith, 1999). Like him, I am passionate about engaging with the whole person and their experiences. I also fully respect and agree with his take on experiential learning and the following elements he considered to be included: (1) setting a positive climate for learning, (2) clarifying the purposes of the learner(s), (3) organizing and making available learning resources, (4) balancing intellectual and emotional components of learning, and (5) sharing feelings and thoughts with learners but not dominating (Smith, 1999). However, unlike Rogers, I do not find cognitive learning to be meaningless (1999).
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4,) (pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. Cranton, P. (1994). Understanding and promoting transformative learning: A guide for educators of adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass . Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership; A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Indianapolis: Paulist Press. Kolb, D. (1984). Kolb, D. A. . Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Engelwood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. MacLean, P. (1990). The triune brain in evolution : role in paleocerebral functions. Bethesda: Springer Science & Business Media,. Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Brothers. Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from esludwig.com: http://www.esludwig.com/uploads/2/6/1/0/26105457/transformative-learning-mezirow-1997.pdf Smith, M. (1999). Humanistic orientations to learning. Retrieved from The encyclopedia of informal education.: http://infed.org/mobi/humanistic-orientations-to-learning