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Building identities through the adult learning experience

Volunteer trainers, staff and board members met recently for a workshop on the adult learning experience, with a view to ongoing improvement of our training processes.

Rhoda van Schalkwyk facilitated the session and shared some interesting ideas, saying “We are speaking about adults who participate in – not a class or lesson – but in a learning circle. We are in conversations as we build people”.

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She started the session with a video clip called “How to have a better conversation” by Celeste Headlea, taking a humorous but meaningful look at some of the typical mistakes we make when communicating. One of the points raised was “prepare to be amazed” – reminding us that each person we come into contact with has something valuable to share. The other points are
• Don’t multitask
• Don’t pontificate – aim to learn
• Use open-ended questions
• Let ideas come + go
• Admit you don’t know
• You don’t understand!
• Don’t repeat yourself
• Forget the details, talk as a person
• Be as brief as a miniskirt

Rhoda reminded us that adults learn better if they understand the reason for learning; that they are self-directed and internally motivated; that they have a rich life experience you can tap for the benefit of the class and that they enjoy real life tasks; and that adult learning is not about classification; but about meaningful experiences.
Time was spent trying to understand how to convey CONTENT by looking at participation, interaction, relationships and how people make sense of themselves and build their own identities. Rhoda used the analogy of a Passport with border stamps in it and encouraged us to see our job at FCD as putting useful stamps into the ID books of our learners so that they can gear into the world of work.
In considering how to convey content, she reminded us that we teach people and not subjects, quoting Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn”.
An important factor highlighted is that everybody has more than one style of learning and very few learners, even those doing the exact same course at ‘varsity, very seldom have a similar way of making sense of the learning experience. So our challenge is to give maximum variety for the best possible learning experience – catering to the various learning intelligences, viz
1. visual
2. aural (hearing, often includes a musical receptivity)
3. verbal
4. physical
5. intrapersonal (inwards)
6. interpersonal (out towards people)
7. logical-mathematical.

She wrapped up the session with these points from the cycle of learning through and from an experience
• Plan or set the conversation to facilitate a learning experience
• Force the participants into thinking about this experience by using lots of questions – reflection
• Typically the learning adult will test this new knowledge from the learning experience, almost do a knowledge experiment
• This leads to a new learning experience
• When we think back about an experience – if we are willing to reflect – we will probably learn something
• And so the cycle continues…

20160418_102306In conclusion, Rhoda encouraged us to reflect on
• Her MODEL OF EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING (Little wooden body in a wire spiral reaching for the sky)
• THE BATON – with the word AGENCY written on it – which we pass on to learners during the learning experience
• THE LADER – which trainers build AND HOLD, but learners are required to climb for themselves