The Big Blog aka the Many Things I Never Thought of… [ID Blog]

When I started out taking The Adult as Learner course, I thought “how hard can it be?” Teaching adults is the same as teaching kids, you just use bigger words, LOL  So many things showed me that I had not even scratched the surface of thinking about this. Just learning the difference between pedagogy and andragogy wasn’t enough. No, we pushed on into learning what is essential in andragogy:  respect for the adult’s life experiences, creating a space in which they don’t feel judged – a place where they feel safe to discuss their ideas and opinions. Even though they may be the same age as the instructor, the instructor must be able to facilitate without appearing condescending.

Wait! I forgot – before all of this we had to consider when does someone become an adult? Because you may work but not be an adult (same with being a parent). Are you an adult if, at age 24, you live with your parents, you don’t work and you pay for nothing?  On the other hand, what if you are 19 years old and living on your own, working, and putting yourself through college? While single parenting? Are you an adult yet?  I had taken for granted the mere meaning of the word adult when I signed up for this class.

We moved on to motivations – why are people taking the class? Because whether their motivations are internal (wanting to master a subject or skill), or external (they will get a better job or promotion) changes how they react to things and how they engage. Why do some people get past many barriers to continue education while others seemingly can’t get past one? It’s not a character flaw, just personal experience.  How does someone see themself as a student? Did they finish high school thinking that they were lucky to graduate and were they told that they were not smart? How will that person embrace taking a class to get ahead at work? Will they look forward to it or just try to get through it? Will they expect, or demand, much of themselves?

Where are you in life? Have you had children? Don’t want kids? Are you married or part of a couple? Are you single? Have you survived a trauma? Are you starting out in the working world or are you an upper-level manager trying to push through to the top tier at work? All of these things define you as a student.

As I think about beginning to create a course, the thought of designing a course for adults with just these thoughts to contend with- it is intimidating. But wait, there’s more! When were you born? Because your generation defines your attitude towards technology, education, and the workforce.

Then there are the learning theories. Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Social Cognitivism, Connectivism, Communities of Practice, etc.  You learn which parts of the brain are utilized and how each is affecting memory, processing new information, how is it being stored, and so on. So much to think of. When you design your class will it be asynchronous or synchronous? Will your students be tech savvy? How will you reach them? There are cones, and zones, and Pavlov and Piaget. So much to consider, at times from opposing viewpoints. How do you make sense of it all?

I told my classmate, Lou, that I think everything is a learning theory now-that if I look at my watch and see the time, that there is some theory out there to say that I’ve just learned because my mind has now placed me in the moment of 10:15 in the world, something I didn’t know minutes before.   I think that this course was great – it introduced us to so much. While it does seem overwhelming, as I continue on my journey of learning in Instructional Design, that these theories will come up again and again and make more sense the more I read, the more I learn – I’m happy to have such a broad base to build upon.  Our class was synchronous and in the asynchronous world of ID, I found synchronous to be helpful. I enjoyed hearing and reading comments from my classmates and professor, insights from sources that weren’t always in my reading. It was a pleasure to get to know my classmates, to work on a group project (even though my group’s big lesson was what happens when the technology fails you, but we persevered). Another bonus of the synchronous classes was learning to use Blackboard and it’s breakout rooms. It made it much easier for us to use when doing our group presentation. I will miss this class but hopefully I’ll find Professor Manning and my classmates elsewhere on the ID journey.

Motivation and the Adult Learner [ID Blog]

The readings this week focused on the various motivations of the adult learner. All I can say is that I never realized there were so many reasons, subcategories, barriers and societal impacts that came into play. Wlodowski’s definition of motivation is “why people behave as they do” and  it is interpreted as being purposeful in one’s actions. His theories were largely constructivist and included a lot of biological/neurological side studies, i.e., how the brain reacts positively to self-directed learning. Wlodowski also accepted the premise that thinking and emotions are inseparable. Honestly, I felt that all the neurological information – which parts of the brain react which way to what stimuli, etc., just made the reading a bit confusing. But that could just be me.

In addition to reading  “What Motivates Adults to Learn” (Wlodowski), we also read Merriam and Bierema’s “Motivation and Learning” chapter from Adult Learning:Linking Theory and Practice (2014).  In this reading it was posited that there are extrinsic and intrinsic motivators for adult learners. Extrinsic motivators often have a tangible goal in sight – getting a degree for a promotion, learning new technology in order to enhance your value to your employer, etc. Intrinsic motivators are unique to each student – learning to expand a social circle, to meet others who enjoy what you do, to be a better parent, or even just to learn solely for the sake of learning. I think even if you have an extrinsic motivator (to learn in order to get a promotion) it also incorporates a bit of intrinsic with it (you want to make a better life for yourself and your family in the long run even if the promotion won’t be the final goal) you may still have more to do in order to create this better life.

In Houle’s The Inquiring Mind (1961), he identified three types of learning orientations – goal-oriented learners (a means to an end, a specific goal in sight), activity-oriented learners (learning for the social aspect or activity), and learning-oriented learners who are focused on learning new things just to learn.  You might start out as one and morph into another. Perhaps you take a class at your community center on jewelry making. Many people comment on how beautiful the necklace is that you made, so you take more classes, delving deeper into the intricacies of jewelry making and end up starting your own business. I would think this happens quite a lot just from the many people whom I’ve encountered that start their own jewelry, soap making, and perfume making businesses. Also, as technology and social media grows, people can do their own marketing (yet more ways to learn, either in a formal setting or just doing self-directed tutorials of software and social media applications).

There were so many different theories in the M&B chapter that it was a bit hard to keep straight how each differed. One thing I did like was McClusky’s Theory of Margin (1963). This theory states that “Margin is the dynamic relationship between load and power.” It wasn’t making that much sense reading about it until I saw it illustrated in the table.  So if you put into the load category the demands you’d have on yourself as an adult learner (family commitments, job responsibility, social and civic duties, along with your own goals, values, attitudes and what you expect of yourself) and in the Power category put in your resources or ways to cope with the load (financial status, social contacts, your health, social skills, coping skills, resiliency) you can create a fraction of Power/Load =margin. If your at 1, then your breaking even but less than that you have too many pressures, more than that and you have a great ability to devote time to learning. Although this theory holds true, I don’t know many people consciously do the pro/con listing when considering pursuing adult education. I would think that it is more likely that someone might see, or be told by others, of barriers in their way. Some people will find ways around this barrier while others might see only the barrier, and it may be quite valid. The digital divide still exists. Where I work we have computers for the teens to come and do their homework. We also offer free computer classes for adults because where I work it is the inner city in a very low-income area. If you don’t have a computer at home, and you don’t have a car, even if you can get financial aid, you still may not be able to physically get to the learning location and you can not take blended classes from home either. Sometimes being motivated doesn’t equate to being able.

Wlodowski’s Integrated Levels of Adult Motivation (2008) has four conditions for instructors to use when designing classes for adults. They are: inclusion, developing an attitude of favorability toward the learning, enhancing the meaning of the learning through challenging and engaging experiences, and finally, engendering confidence by helping each of the learners see what they have learned from the instruction. I liked his K-W-L strategy – learner’s identify what they Know, what they Want to know, and finally what they have Learned.  He had 60 strategies listed to accomplish all of this and some are quite simple (e.g. use constructive criticism, allow for introductions, etc.). Most of the strategies fall back to the idea of who the adult learner is: someone who is full of life experiences and wants to learn but does not want another to act dominant over them. They want to be respected and feel that they are valued. They’re used to making their own decisions and thus are better at self directed learning as that is something that they already do every day, whether in the work place, online, across the informal and non-formal domains, and if in school, in the formal domain as well.

As we continue on in this class it becomes clear that when creating instruction for a class one needs to be cognizant of so many factors: who the learners are, their experiences, what their motivators are, what barriers they might have had to overcome in order to get there, and finally, where they lie in the Theory of Margin. How do you design a class when the participants may be so vastly different? I’m hoping I’ll know all of this by the end of my own instruction at UMB.

Generations and the Adult Learner [ID Blog]

I found this week’s readings on generations and our discussion of the same, to be very interesting. What was most interesting to me as a baby boomer were the perceptions of the younger generations (why do I sound like my grandmother when writing those last 2 words, LOL)  about us. My sister was born in 1949 and I was born in 1963. Both of us are baby boomers. When asked about defining events that shaped each generation they said World War II was that moment for baby boomers. About the only impact the WWII had was really the creation of us. The beginning of our generation came about from the reuniting of soldiers and their families. Thousands of little houses (e.g., Levittown, NY) were built to offer homes to the GIs. Having been born in 1963 I have no memory of WWII other than my brothers watching the movie Patton. My only taste of the Korean War was watching M.A.S.H., and yes, I lived through Vietnam but as I was only 7 in 1970, I don’t really remember much of it. Except that on the soap opera All My Children Erica Kane (the character played by Susan Lucci) had a fiance who was presumed dead, so she remarried and, true to soap opera tradition, returned once she’d remarried.

Technologically we are thought to be inept. Part of my job is handling social media where I work and I’ve never had an issue with it. In fact, my biggest problem has been trying to get the parents of our daycare children and teen program to connect. Many of them are younger, their connections online tend to be with friends, families, stores at which they shop, or entertainment sites.  I am not alone. My high school graduating class was close to 1200 students and most of us are online, whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram. We had to learn more than other generations as we had manual typewriters, then electric typewriters, followed by dedicated word processors, then personal computers, laptops and tablets, and now smart phones. To suggest that we aren’t online, that we can’t figure things out, or are afraid of technology, is wrong. I would say that applies more to those of the Greatest Generation, or the early baby boomers. I think that the baby boomer generation is too long, that we should be divided into two. Again, my sister was off to college at 18 whilst I was still 5 years old. I think our experiences are vastly different. I hate to argue with SMEs in this department but to call us the same generation and think we have the same mindset and that we were affected in the same way by events is erroneous.

NOTE FOR THE FOLLOWING SECTION: I am in no way fond of stereotyping. Just as I’m fine working with technology and social media, the boomer stereotype is that we need our children to log us on. So what I write about the other generations below is based on experiences I’ve had or what my friends/coworkers have experienced. It is in no way meant to say that this is how a whole generation is, only my perceptions.

One way in which I am alike with other boomers is the way in which we perceive the younger generations. I admit that I never knew where Gen X ended and Gen Y began, or into what generation my 12 year old daughter fell before this week’s reading. Just as teenagers grow and try to own their self-identity and separate from their parents, it seems each generation seems to find some of the previous generations sociological ideas “not cool” anymore.

It was shocking to me to realize that millennials won’t have lived through the attacks of 9/11 and therefore won’t have been individually affected. Even though my daughter is only 12, because she is named after my best friend, Chantal Vincelli, who died at the World Trade Center, and because I have shared my own experiences of that day, she’s acutely aware of what happened and very sensitive about it.  I can’t watch TV that day or be on social media. It’s fine to see memorials or services or flags flying but the actual footage – people forget that for some of us those are the last moments that our loved ones were alive. They’d never want to see footage of their parents dying each year on that anniversary yet they (unthinkingly) share that footage on social media over and over that day. It has given me a whole new perspective of what the Kennedy family has had to go through with JFK, RFK, and JFK Jr. footage on the anniversaries of their respective deaths.

I don’t think of those born in 1965 as Gen X as that’s two years after me and so they aren’t that young anymore either (sorry if I’ve just insulted anyone). The tail end of Gen X melds with Gen Y. I think of this group as one. The biggest difference that my peers and I have noted is that they are less likely to work late or come to work functions. They also have a modest tech knowledge.

The millennials that I’ve worked with have been tech savvy and fun to work with, but socially lacking proper etiquette. Various functions, both professional and social, they’ve failed to RSVP and then have shown up, or signed up to attend things and then not shown up nor did they let anyone know they weren’t coming so that classes were held up, events juggled to accommodate people they didn’t expect, etc. I even had a millennial coworker who had just been hired “ghost” us. She decided that she no longer wanted to work there but rather than telling her boss or anyone else (and she did our payroll!) she slid the key to her office under the door on a Friday afternoon and never returned. She was quite angry when we called the police to do a wellness check on her a week later after she failed to respond to emails, texts, or calls.

Although we all go through the phases of the life cycle I admit that since my 30’s I’ve had a hard time sitting in a restaurant or bar listening to the conversations of undergrads. Often they have this jaded “I’ve seen it all ” attitude and think they know everything (clearly they don’t but there’s no convincing them of that) and their dismissal of everything suggested by others (older or younger) is dismissed with this cynical attitude. I’m sure I was the exact same way at that age. In your 30s you become much stronger in your sense of self, by 40 you don’t care what others say and by the time you reach 50 you’ve reached the wonderful place where you can do what you want, say what you want (within reason, I don’t meant threatening to kill anyone) and people will chalk up the weirder stuff to being eccentric. It is a bit freeing. I wander out to get the mail in outfits that horrify my daughter and I remember the same thing happening to me at her age.

Which leads me to believe that when thinking about the adult learners in your upcoming class, it’s best to ask ahead of time for a simple bio. That way age and location can be taken into account. The Millennial in Iowa may not approach the class the same way the Baby Boomer in NYC does. The course must be designed to be interesting to all and to incorporate technology that will work for all.