Experiential and Informal learning can take place anywhere from cradle to grave.
1) My first experiential learning incident began in 1993. I lived in upstate New York in a secluded area within a forest almost surrounded by huge glorious trees. I was a college student, before on line learning existed and only had my book as there was no interaction like there is today between students and professors on the internet. I didn’t have a car so I found alternative ways of spending time when not reading or writing essays for school. I was also unemployed. My down time seemed to drive me crazy. For Christmas a friend gave me a joke present, or was it? Knowing I had a creative side, the gift was a children’s water color painting set.
I began playing with the medium and found that it led me to acrylics. I began watching Bob Ross, a famous artist on television and proceeded to pick up my paints and put them to canvas imitating his paint strokes and techniques for instance, how to create clouds. I used his vision as a guide for my own paintings. I acquired new skills by watching and imitating an artist and my television teacher. I learned how to create art and found a new passion. I found my own techniques and style and soon I began selling my artwork at art shows, home shows and even craft shows. My self-esteem was on the low side at the time and painting brought me the desirable encouragement I needed. Miller and Dollard’s (1940) theory reported, “Drawing from stimulus-response and reinforcement theory, they argued that people do not learn from observation alone: rather, they must imitate and reinforce what they have observed” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p.288). Bob Ross played a major role in my learning. He was a soft spoken teacher with patience. He explained things in laymen’s terms and rarely used the field terminology. I will always remember his comment, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”
In describing the learning that took place I would say it was a visual, auditory, and a kinesthetic session between me and a man on a television screen who encouraged me to pick up a paint brush and let the creativity flow onto a piece of canvas. I used my hands, my eyes, my experiential knowledge of drawing, my listening ability, and my third eye (spiritually speaking) when I painted. I learned by listening to his explanations of how to paint for example, the blending of different colors on a painting knife and then describing the amount of pressure to be used when painting bark on a tree or a side of a mountain. I learned about the different brushes to use in creating the image of trees and how to paint the reflection of the sun against a river or ocean. I learned through trial and error, I learned by experimenting to find my own style, and I learned that the medium of acrylics can be forgiving in that it dries fast which helps when I make mistakes and correct them.
I have always been a creative person whether I was writing poetry, sketching, or drawing. I feel that painting was another way of expressing myself, an extension of myself. The more I painted the greater the positive reinforcement I received, the more paintings I completed. When I paint, I will admit, I am eccentric, I have to paint alone and since I have what is called, Tinnitus (a high pitch 24/7 noise in the ears) from the age of seven, I chose to paint with the television on for white noise as a background.
This painting experience was a major learning experience for me. I learned how to focus on details within an image, how to connect with others by using relatable symbols such as painting a scenic scene with a lighthouse, seagulls and crashing waves against it. I learned how to create beauty and the ability to share with others. I learned techniques to create texture, and I gained knowledge of different brushes and what effect they create, color mixing, and how to lay out a landscape. I learned that I enjoyed painting, the sense of accomplishment I felt, the increased confidence, and the satisfaction it instilled in me as I shared my art with others. The creative side of myself was involved in this learning is experience which enabled me to express myself through my own representation of life.
2) My second self-directed learning event incorporates incidental learning. I spent a good portion of my life being a primary caretaker for my mother because of her poor health. Whenever I got “the call”, I went running to help. In 2006, I was living in Oklahoma for about two weeks when I received a call that my mother was taken to the hospital. Within two days I was in Sarasota staying with her cats and going to the hospital two and three times a day because she didn’t like the food so I would pick up food as she requested. She spent six months in two different hospitals and had two separate surgeries. After being released from the hospital she was taken to a rehab facility because her muscles had atrophied in her legs, she could barely walk.
After two weeks of being there I went into the facility and was told , “She would be released in just a few days.” One of my mom’s many illnesses’ included being a severe diabetic who checked her sugars three times a day and gave herself the appropriate insulin injections, also three times a day. Her eyesight had begun failing and at that time couldn’t see the numbers on the needles. I am her only living relative and she had no one to rely on, but me. As I reflected on this dilemma, I can recall as a child when she would give herself injections while I was in the room. I would glance at the needle and become frightened and run out of the room screaming, “No needles, no needles” every time.
I knew I needed to learn how to administer insulin properly and check sugars. It was a do or die situation. I had no choice it was a necessity, to take on the responsibility and to learn this action If I hadn’t, she would have died. I learned out of love for my mother. For all she had done for me, it was my way of saying thank you and I will always be here for you. My mother always said, “It’s you and me against the world.”
Two days before her release, I asked a nurse to teach me how to check sugars and give injections. My incidental learning was stemmed from, “That is, depending on their life experiences, existing knowledge, and motivations, learners have varying degrees of self-directedness and can develop it further, motivated by self or others direction” (Kasworm, Rose and Ross-Gordon, 2010, p. 17).
Linda, the nurse sat with me at a cushioned bench, her pushcart filled with pills, medical supplies like needles and on top of a tissue box was three oranges. She explained how to test sugars as we held eye contact the entire time. I listened and watched as she showed me how to load the mini needles for lancing and how to use test stripes for the blood sugar monitor. She had me test hers, and then mine with a prick on the fingertip. Ouch. Then she picked up one of the oranges and handed it to me. She picked up another which she held. We talked about the similarities of the flesh of an orange compared to that of a human. She picked two viles of insulin and spoke about the differences since mom was on both. I held them in my hands and examined them closely. Then she picked up a needle and gave me one too. As I watched her fill the needle of insulin, the before occurrences, during and after events were becoming imbedded in my mind. I followed her lead. I tried several times to inject the orange before I succeeded. She had me do it several times until my confidence level increased. Linda had been a good teacher as she explained and showed me a new side to being a primary caretaker. She watched me fail and then explained how to do it differently in order to administering insulin correctly.
This was a kinesthetic, visual, auditory and verbal learning experience. I used my hands to hold needles, insulin and oranges, my eyes to watch the how-to process, I listened closely and expressed my concerns. I will forever be indebted to Linda as I was able to care for my mother and help to sustain her life for the few months she had left on this earth. My heart, logic skills, critical thinking, crisis prevention, organizational skills and my mind were all involved in this learning experience. I learned to face my fears of needles. I learned a skill that will actually help me when I marry a transgender man and I administer his testosterone shots on a weekly basis.
3) My third incident is based on the training and mentoring of a new hire within a company. I had been an ass’t controller of a seafood company for four years and only two people were in the accounting department, it was me and the controller. I basically married my job as I would connect from home online if I wasn’t there on the weekends and stay till ten or eleven at night because we were an international organization and there was always something to do. One day my boss pulled me into his office and told me I didn’t have choice, I had to start hiring people under me so I could move up within the company. I hired several employees and personally handled all of the training. I had one trainee who didn’t maybe understand or couldn’t handle the work after three weeks. I called her look, “Bambi-itis” dear in the headlights. Nothing seemed to be sticking, yet I knew she was qualified for the job. I tried different techniques such as discussing what a task entails to hands on experience to going through the how-to manual I had written. It was through trial and error that I was able to connect with her.
I walked her outside to her car after work one day and asked what she needed in order to learn certain tasks. She began to become emotional talking about her two kids and explaining the financial hardship she was experiencing due to her ex-husband. The following day I went to my boss and explained her situation and asked if we could advance her money so she could pay her rent. He ok’d my request. The employee’s stress level decreased and her aptitude increased within a few days. She was able to give 100% to the job while giving 100% of her focus. I gave her the help and encouragement that was needed for her to succeed.
In describing the kind of engagement I had with the employee my thoughts were focused on her understanding certain procedures within the accounting department. I followed learning techniques that I thought would be useful and beneficial. In order to learn I made mistakes in how I trained her and then followed it by listening to her speak about the learning barrier. I believe it was necessary to learn how to approach and communicate with an employee, because in turn, I am learning leadership skills, humanistic skills and teamwork capabilities. I had read about problem based learning and thought this theory would apply, “The emphasis of problem based approaches is on learning processes of inquiry which proceed by asking what needs to be known to address and improve a particular situation” (Boud, & Feletti, 1991, p. 16). The parts of myself that were involved in this learning experience were my instincts, being a trainer and sharing knowledge, critical thinking, and psychological skills. I learned to take a closer examination in assessing an employee’s working ability and to question more.
The question posed, “Can I identify my assumptions and beliefs that are reflected in my informal learning experiences expressed in my three essays? I can see my learning process going through different linear stages such as, trial and error or self-assessment when changes were needed for instance, how I approached a problem. As Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner (2007) commented, “Learners moved through a series of steps to reach their learning goals in a self-directed manner” (p. 110).
As I reflect it appears that Knowles theory of andragogy is the essence of my essays. I am an adult learner who questions my need to learn new knowledge before proceeding with the process of learning. I am becoming more self-directed in how I learn as I mature and found my learning is related to my own social roles that change. My internal feelings of eagerness and readiness to learn are my motivation that helps me with future learning experiences. My belief is that new knowledge will assist me to problem solve as I apply my past involvements. It is my experiential learning which has established my self-identity as an adult learner and led me to reflect on being my own personal resource for information. I find that I am specific in my choices of what to earn, how I want to learn and also, when I want to learn.
According to Knowles (1980,1984), there are six assumptions based on an adult learner:
– As a person matures his or her self-concept moves from that of dependent personality toward one of a self-directing human being.
– An adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience, which is a rich resource for learning.
– The readiness of an adult to learn is closely related to the developmental task of his or her social role.
-There is change in time perspective as people mature-from future application of knowledge to immediacy of application. Thus, an adult is more problem centered than subjective centered in learning.
-The most potent motivations are internal rather than external.
– Adults need to know why they learn something. (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 84).
I have learned many things about my assumptions that I made and the beliefs that I held about experience and learning. First, learning through experiences begins with the first breath and takes place in all environments serving different purposes and needs. As Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner (2007) reported, “Clearly, people learn from experience” (p. 163). Second, my learning can be seen as transformational as Mezirow described, “the process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or a revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future actions” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 132), as in my essay of learning new medical applications and techniques and being able to care for my mother properly. Through this learning, I was able to make meaning from my experiences (Kasworm, Rose and Ross-Gordon, 2010, para. 17). I can see humanistic learning as a result of my emotions and being goal oriented which increased my self-concept and self-esteem when I learned how to paint scenic scenes in acrylic. This showed me that my feelings directed my learning beliefs. Lastly, constructivism learning is apparent by my social environment influences as Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner (2007) mentioned, “Consequently, learning occurs through dialogue, collaborative learning, and cooperative learning” (p. 292). This can be seen in my essay about a co-worker.
I became more conscious of those assumptions and beliefs in regards to communication. Without the transfer of information whether it be watching a television show, listening to a nurse explain how to’s, or discussing a dilemma, learning cannot be fully accomplished. Freire (1993) stated, “Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning” This exercise has confirmed my assumptions and beliefs in how, when, why and what I learn.
Boud, D. & Feletti, G. (1991). The problem with problem based learning. Retrieved September 25, 2013, from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=zvyBq6k6tWUC&oi=fnd&pg=PA17&dq=adult+learning+from+mistakes&ots=PLsfIc1pt3&sig=JEjs427i8kphOJofFplHdxHRumE#v=onepage&q&f=false
Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Rev. 30th Anniversary ed. New York: Continuum. Retrieved September 28, 2013, from <https://moodle.esc.edu/pluginfile.php/629611/mod_resource/content/2/Paulo%20Freire.pdf>.