Experiential Learning [ID Blog]

For years I had wanted to return to school to pursue my master’s degree. I wasn’t sure for which subject exactly, but I knew it had to do with education. I thought of working with special needs children but that required another bachelor’s degree before moving on. My BA in Humanities wasn’t going to work for grad school special needs. So I pursued other ideas. As a working, single mom, I needed to be present as a parent. I didn’t want to be one of those people whose child comes home from school then eats dinner alone because mom has gone from work to night school. I’m not saying that is wrong, it was just not the right path for me. After losing my best friend and others at the World Trade Center I never take for granted that I will see someone the next day, or even later that day. This is something that has worked against me mentally at times, I must admit.

As time wore on it started to seem that returning to school was ridiculous and a waste of money, in my 40s, and even more so once I hit 50, . My friend, Karen, stopped her work as a CPA, got student loans, and went to law school for tax law. At the time I worried greatly for her, taking on debt so late in life. And then it happened.

In March 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had the mastectomy, had the mediport put in my jugular, did the chemo (thankfully didn’t need radiation), and everything else that goes with it. Of course, I thought about death. I thought about life. I realized that where I was working at the time I was surrounded by women in their 70s who were still working. Not because they wanted to get out of the house but because they relied on the income. Social Security is not enough. I also realized that these women are 15-20 years older than myself. If I’m going to still be working at that point, I don’t want it to be for some low-paying job that has become routine to me. I want to do something I will enjoy and that will benefit others. I want to do something that will offer financial stability. I realized grad school was only 3 years and why wasn’t I going back? I spoke to a couple of people and as luck would have it, my cancer support group leader was an Instructional Designer. I had no idea what that was, but I questioned her and was excited about what she did. I think I may have been a little too excited, she had that “Single White Female” scared face for a few minutes. But once she realized I wasn’t out to take over her identity, only to settle on a program for grad school, all was well. I researched online grad schools for ID. I got a list and it had Boise as the number one choice and UMass Boston as number three. But for some reason the moment I saw UMass Boston I felt compelled to apply there. I did not apply anywhere else, this was my first choice. I was so excited to get in.  Here I am now, finishing up my first semester – stressing over my group and individual projects and papers but still here, still surviving. I even have an upcoming surgery on May 9th, my final surgery of this cancer escapade (I hope) yet my focus is on school. I’m still excited. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the reading but now I’m looking at people on TV, the people I see in stores, etc., differently. Because what I thought was just a decision to return to school turned out to be a type of learning – experiential learning. According to this learning theory, I encountered a trauma that made me think and re-assess my place in the world. Once that reassessment was done, and I had my new viewpoint, I proceeded to act upon it by applying to UMass Boston and enroll. It reminds me of the cliché that my grandmother used to say all the time “You learn something new everyday”  But I think the addendum to that should be “even when you don’t realize that it’s learning”. Sometimes the trauma you encounter is your cocoon and when you reassess and take action, you come out as a beautiful butterfly.

Communities of Practice [ID Blog]

Communities of Practice are great(CoP). They’re pretty much ubiquitous. According to Merriam and Bierema’s Adult Learning (2014), the family is listed as a CoP. For me, I’d say one of the most involved CoPs I’ve been involved with was dog obedience.

While living in Florida I had my own Alaskan Malamutes. I worked for the national breed rescue as well. Yes, there are Mals in Florida- but you need good A/C and baby pools to keep them happy in summer. They will never have a heavy winter coat like their relatives living up north so they appear smaller and/or thinner. But I digress.

There are two divisions in dog shows: Breed (aka the ring) and Obedience. The ring is what you see on TV  – handlers running their dogs around a ring on slip leads while a judge watches their movements. Judges then go over each dog with their hands to see how each dog conforms to that breed’s standard. Everyone is dressed up – no jeans and sneakers in this crowd.

Then you have the outside areas which not only includes the dogs competing in obedience (sit/stay/ walking off lead, going over jumps, taking direction from their owner/handler via hand signals and/or verbally) and in agility, the fun obstacle course with tunnels and seesaws.

I wanted to get into obedience but other than books at the library and some dog magazines including the AKC’s magazine that listed where obedience trials would be taking place, I had no idea how to get involved. I looked up (this was the early 90s) the phone numbers for dog clubs in the area. There was one in St. Petersburg, FL near me. Through meetings and interacting with people involved in the sport, I learned the lingo. Now I laughed at shirts that said Winner’s Bitch and kid’s shirts that said Bred by Exhibitor. I attended meetings with my dog, Sunday, and learned how to work him in an obedience ring. Through these folks I learned that individual breed clubs had their own competitions as well. When I discovered something that I had found out, I shared with everyone at the next meeting or if time was of the essence, I phoned a couple of members who in turn phoned a few more.


I went from someone with a dog and a dream, and ended up speaking the jargon, understanding the rules, helping others that joined after me, and continued to learn and grow until I moved out-of-state. The tips, tricks, etc. that I learned from these folks are still part of my knowledge-base today. As my daughter has grown up I’ve shared them with her. I will always be grateful to those folks and should I find myself in a place where once again I may have a dog, I shall seek out my closest dog training club because no matter where I am, that is how I connect with my tribe.

Who would ever have thought that learning through others this way was actually a learning theory? Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave’s theory of Situated Learning and Communities of Practice remind me of when you cut a tree in half. You see the rings that get smaller and denser towards the center. That is like a Community of Practice: you start on the outer edges, interested but (and this is the difference between a CoP and Sander’s Community of Interest ([CoI]) you are also practicing albeit at just a beginner’s level. Through interaction, learning and sharing from those more seasoned and skilled, your knowledge grows and you move closer to the center. Now you begin to share things and those on the outer rings are learning from you whilst you’re still learning from those in the center. Everyone is rewarded and everyone is participating and learning. Even the “masters” in the center can still learn new things from those farther out from them as well as from other sources.

I thank wikimedia commons for the images.

Watch Out, Your Internal Mental Process is Showing [ID BLOG]

I mentioned in a previous blog about using behaviorism in my dog training days as well as responding to it in my own life. There is also a funny episode of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon subtly uses behaviorism to “train” Penny. While behaviorism has the learner responding to cues and stimuli in the environment, cognitivism focuses on the mental process of learning and building  upon previous knowledge. Piaget’s famous four stages of development is probably one of the best known representations of this theory. Knowledge is seen as schema which, according to dictionary.com, is an underlying pattern or structure. Everything is seen as patterns and as the individual’s brain is introduced to new things, stimulation of prior knowledge occurs and the person is able to interpret and add this new information to one of the existing schema thus changing it (until the next input of informational learning arrives). When I think of patterns and learning it brings to mind mnemonics, which of course brings up Keanu Reeves because he played Johnny Mnemonic. But I digress. I watched a wonderful video about memorizing Piaget’s four stages and it was based on mnemonics which can be watched here. Very creative help.

Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiments of 1961 and 1963 showed that modeling aggressive behavior resulted in aggressive actions by those witnessing it. With apologies to Piaget, I think Bandura’s experiments should get attention nowadays. I don’t wish to sound like Tipper Gore (who I’ll admit I thought was overreacting to violence in video games and music back in the 90s) kids today see violence in movies, video games, music videos, and TV. There has, and always will be violence, but as CGI and special effects have become more realistic via technology, the remakes of some movies out-gore the original. Even our news is basically a tally of shootings, terrorist attacks, and accidents with some weather and traffic thrown in. People are more aggressive for some reason these days. Take a man and woman who don’t know each other encountering each other in the line at Starbucks, they’ll be polite. Take the same two people, put them in cars on the highway, one of them running late, and they’ll be cutting the other person’s car off, possibly rude gesturing, etc. With 330 mass shootings in the US in 2015, which is almost one per day, what comes out is we all need to see kindness modeling. I am not trying to say there are not kind people. Throughout my cancer treatment I had total strangers coming up, some asking if they could pray for me, others asking if I needed help with anything, twice at Starbucks I had my drinks paid for by someone whom I did not know. There is good in this world and if using cognitivist Bobo doll modeling we could somehow get a good Bobo on the TV during halftime at Superbowl, imagine what could happen. On second thought the halftime show wouldn’t work, we need to repeat it, so maybe a kind Bobo doll commercial that keeps playing.