Reflections on Education

Growing up I was taught the value of being a well-rounded person. For my parents this meant being able to know about the world, to understand the things that were happening around us, to be observant and to ask questions, and to be well-read. Furthermore, being well-rounded meant to be cultured (to us this meant that we knew about and learned to appreciate the finer things in life, that we displayed good taste in things and acted in a well-mannered way, that we conducted ourselves so that we would not cause people to think negatively about us, etc.).

The problem, however, was that I largely rebelled against that in my early teenage years. I did not want to be seen as stuffy, as better than others, as more educated or even as arrogant. The result: I went from straight A’s to grades I do not want to mention in this forum! At first, it didn’t bother me. But then, one day it hit me! What was I doing? I was beginning to throw my life away. I was catching myself going against everything that I knew I should be doing.

While many never fully recover from this, I was determined to stop the down-ward spiral and change my life—or better, bring it back to where it once was a few years earlier. Where I started was my attitude about education. Whereas I had displayed a gross ignorance to school and all things relating to education for a good part of two and a half years, I now decided it was high time to get back on track!

Upon switching schools to allow me to have a fresh start, I began to refocus my energies on learning. What I found is that learning began to be fun again. In fact, I was looking forward to learning new things. And the results were positive: my grades went back up and I was able to get into college.

And that was only the BEGINNING. I was now in a situation where I could pick an area of study that I was hungry to learn more about and to try and sink my teeth into. Great!

Great? Well, sort of. Working on completing my undergraduate degree was something that I certainly was happy about for the most part, but I still struggled a bit with the way I had to learn. I felt that many of the courses were structured like my high school classes. I was still being treated like I was 16, not 22! The worst was, however, that I not only experienced it as a student but I also perpetuated this as a teaching assistant, as I instructed several first, second, and third year undergraduate classes over the course of my attendance at the university.

The real paradigm shift came for me years later! And it came in two ways: as an instructor and as a student.

My Experience as Instructor:

Having spent over a decade in corporate training, I have become very conscious early on what it meant to be in a position to instruct adult learners. Without any formal education in the concepts of andragogy (the science of adult learning), I intuitively adjusted my style of teaching in such a way that I was able to connect with my learners in a very meaningful way (this is based on years of learner feedback I have gotten). Years later, when I started to learn about the concepts of instructional design and adult learning, I came to realize that what I had been doing was largely in line with the way it should have been done in the first place. So what did I do?

I tried to teach the way I wanted to be taught. Namely, I wanted to be respected by my instructors, I wanted my voice be heard, I wanted to be in a position where my experience and prior knowledge was not only being acknowledged but actively sought to enrich the instruction (see this informative article about Malcolm Knowles’ take on adult learning)

My Experience as Learner:

I take pride in considering myself to be a life-time learner. While I have not always made this a focus in my life in the past, I can honestly state that this is true today as I observe the world around me, as I ask questions, as I read, as I exchange ideas with others and as I try to learn more about topics that interest me (my parents, by the way, are proud of my efforts of finally becoming the well-rounded person they had always envisioned me to be!).

Being a life-time learner for me means engaging in learning activities that are both formal and informal. To satisfy my need for formal education, I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Instructional Design at UMASS Boston. I also attend seminars and training sessions in a variety of topics such as coaching, self-improvement, sales, etc. to further broaden my horizon.

As a student of both formal and informal educational settings, I have seen a recent shift in how education is being delivered. Instead of being a student in the traditional sense, I see myself as a learner. This mind shift is not only intrinsic but is also aided by instructors who increasingly act like “guide on the side” versus playing the old “sage on the stage” (the all-powerful, all-knowing professor that wields the power to bestow grades based on their terms). For example, the old “drill and practice” approach used in the old days (aka “behaviorism”) has given way to learning theories that favor self-guided learning (e.g. experiential learning or communities of practice), let alone approaches that allow me as a learner to construct meaning for myself.

Conclusion:

While I may have rambled on a bit long here, I want to simply state that the desire to learn should be met with instruction that is designed to make learning come alive. This can be done by presenting relevant information, utilizing the knowledge and experience of the me as a learner, allowing the learner to not only interact with the instructor and the content but also letting the learner explore, discover and create as part of the learning process.

For me, if these things come together, I not only enjoy learning but the things I learn will ultimately enrich my life in become the well-rounded person I want and need to be!

Till next time. Go and reach for the stars!

Posted by Sven Menssen

A business professional in the talent development field, I focus on helping others succeed!

A life-long student of self-improvement, I strive to live my life in such a way as to make a difference and to help improve the lives of those I come in contact with every day.

My credo: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”

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