Students are extraordinary teachers. They speak.
They constantly tell us how our expectations, objectives, curriculums, and instructional strategies affect them.We need to look to our students to tell us why learning takes place
~ Anthony Gregorc
Focused Life History
If asked how my learning style developed throughout my life I would say, “Do you have an hour or so?” My learning style is considered complex and unique. Gregorc (1985a) states that learning styles are, “…behaviors, characteristics, and mannerisms which are symptoms of mental qualities used for gathering data from the environment” (Gregorc, 1982, p. 179 as cited in Thompson, Orr, Thompson & Park, 2002). My style has been created by layers, stages, and patterns as Galbraith (1991b) noted, “It is the multifaceted physiological, psychological, sociological, and the developmental aspects of the adult learner that contribute to and make a challenging and enriching educational encounter” (Galbraith,1991b, p. 18 as cited in Galbraith, 2004, p. 14).
Hence, my learning style is evident through multiple layers and patterns as I slowly developed into a lifelong learner. My learning style combines Keefe’s (1979) taxonomy, physiological/perceptual learning or a holistic foundation of various sensory choices and sensation options, cognitive learning which relates information-processing habits in my mode of perceiving, thinking, problem solving and remembering (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, para. p.123). Also incorporated in my style is affective/personality. According to James & Maher the affective/personality aspects of learning style are, “…encompass aspects of personality that are related to motivation, emotion, and valuing are the learner’s typical mode of arousing, directing, and sustaining behavior” (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, p.123), which enhances my various social learning preferences including feedback and recognition (Galbraith, 2004, para. p. 136). Wilson (1993) argues that “…learning is an everyday event that is social in nature because it occurs with other people; it is ‘tool dependent’ because the setting provides mechanisms (computers, maps, measuring cups) that aid, and more important, structure the cognitive process; and finally, it is the interaction with the setting itself in relation to its social and tool dependent nature that determines the learning” (as cited in Hansman, 2001, p. 44).
Houle’s (1984) book, Patterns of Learning which Houle (1992) later referred to as “…a series of essays describing how individuals devise patterns of learning for themselves that change as they grow older… he uses biographical sketches to illustrate how adults adapt different patterns of learning” (Brockett, & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 2). My learning style also incorporates my beliefs, values, motivations, and personal commitments. In addition, it is through my experiential learning that I developed my knowledge as defined by Grover & Stovall (2013), “…the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (p. 86) in which without my experiences and building upon them I would not have been able to learn effectively. In addition, Kolb & Kolb (2005) noted, “Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world. Not just the result of cognition, learning involves the integrated functioning of the total per- son – thinking, feeling, perceiving, and behaving” (p. 194).
I have lived in nineteen states and as a child moved every six to nine months due to my father being a military man. This made it difficult for me as I was continuously being placed in unfamiliar learning environments and had to learn how to incorporate myself within classes that already begun, where friendships were in place, and both student and teacher knew the expectations from one another. I was like the other, an outsider looking in and the chameleon.
I can recall in living in Pennsylvania and attending kindergarten when gold stars were given for excellent work as a reward system and for feedback. It was then that the perfectionist in me and learning somehow intertwined. Is it possible for a learner to have physiological health issues due to learning? I thrived on the gold stars to the point of worrying to the extreme. I was put on baby food for two weeks after my mother was told I was one step away from giving myself an ulcer due to my distressing. Being an only child I found myself at a young age and even times as an adult playing the role of the isolated learner due to this characteristic. Vygotsky (1978) commentated, “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).” Upon reflection there is a connection between moving, my learning style, motivation, and my perfectionism as I always looked for the gold star. As an idealist I am more motivated in a class when I believe the teacher is truly interested in my growth and mentors me on personal development (para. Keirsey Temperament Sorter II: Personality Instrument).
At age seven years old I lived in California, but more importantly, I felt like I lived at the pool located in our apartment complex. I didn’t know at the time that what I was experiencing would prepare me for my life ahead. I was there when they first opened up in the morning until they closed when the sun went down. The lifeguards took me under their wings. I was able to stay past closing and watch their training process. I wanted to follow in their footsteps and asked if I could. This revealed my being a proactive learner and signs of being self-directed. According to Knowles (1975), in its broadest sense, self-directed learning describes a process “… in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes” (Keesee, 2008, p. 2). Upon doing the doggy paddle in the pool for five minutes to test my endurance I was allowed to rescue a dummy called Madelyn from drowning and performed CPR on her. In reflecting on my learning, I learned best by having a kinesthetic learning experience, being surrounded by like minds, going through trial and error, watching their techniques, movement, and listening intently as I soaked up everything like a sponge, each word and each hypothetical problems that had been discussed and resolved.
On a side note, they taught me how to meditate by using repetition and how to tell time on a clock by showing me and reinforcing how to. I would go home and practice what I’ve learned as it began to prepare me for adulthood in developing my self-direction and self-knowledge. Time was not easy for me to comprehend as reflected in the beginning as I would say, “It’s fifteen minutes to ten to five.” Mezirow (1981) commented, “…self-directed learning underlies the process of perspective transformation: “Enhancing the learner’s ability for self-direction in learning as a foundation for a distinctive philosophy of adult education has breadth and power…It represents the mode of learning characteristic of adulthood” (Mezirow, 1981, p. 21 as cited in Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 29).
Furthermore, Kolb’s learning cycle is reflected in my stage learning as McLeod (2013) reported, “Concrete Experience where my new experience of a situation was encountered, Reflective Observation of my new experience, Abstract Conceptualization in which I reflected giving rise to a new ideas, and Active Experimentation in which I applied them to the world around me” (McLeod, Saul, 2013, para.). The theory is constructed on the reflection of experiences resulting in the experiential processes and how I gained knowledge. Kolb & Kolb (2005) explained, “Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience” (p. 194). Lastly, Kolb’s experiential learning theory can be seen in my internal reasoning. My learning style incorporates Diverging (feeling and watching – CE/RO) and Accommodating (doing and feeling – CE/AE) as I am sensitive and I watch and collect data to problem solve. (McLeod, 2013, para.).
In grade three of my formal educating years leading into the seventh grade my experiences and emotions changed regarding learning. I was bullied physically and verbally by classmates inside and out outside of the school, no matter which city or state I resided in. I could never focus a hundred percent in class as the oppressors sat around me. Hollander & Hunt (1963) commented, “…that an individual’s impressions of a situation, including another person, result from three major elements: the situation, other people, and the perceiver” (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, p. 32). I was uncomfortable within the learning environments and the psychosocial risk and physiological health issues caused me to lose my attention span and have head aches. I compensated by working twice as hard at home within my safe zone. This was the beginning of my learning how to be self-directed as I matured. Keesee (2008) noted Knowles assumptions, “During the process of maturation, a person moves from dependency toward increasing self-directedness, but at different rates for different people and in different dimensions of life.” Also, Knowles (1959) stated that an adult is one who has matured “…from dependency toward autonomy to the point that at least he makes his own decisions and faces their consequences” (Brockett, & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 4). I learned best while working alone, yet still dependent on teacher’s guidance.
The two pieces of history are just two examples of my learning style beginning to take shape. As an adolescent my learning style began to incorporate learning from others as Brookfield (1980) commented, “…that learners working part of the time in isolation often come together in what he calls a “fellowship of learning” where competition among learners is balanced with a degree of cooperation and sharing” (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991, p. 12). At age sixteen I was a nurse’s aid (before you had to be certified in Texas). My learning style of being an abstract random began to show as I focused my attention to human behavior, being able to read people, having a concern for others, being empathetic, caring, and a need to share my knowledge of patient’s status with coworkers during group discussions. I learned that I was a people person.
As I have stated, my learning style has been proven to be complicated. Now as an adult my learning style has continued to develop, expand and grow. My learning style represents me and how I want my life to be significant in helping to create a world that is a better place for others. I am profiled as the ESFP Personality Type or performer. This means I learn through being extroverted, sensing, feeling, and perceiving. (Myers-Briggs Test, 2014, para.). I learn best as I move towards my master’s degree, in daily experiences, and in life through holistic environments in which I can reflect on my identity, purpose and making meaning of the connections of the world around me, spiritually and in nature.
When I learn, I learn from my heart, body, and soul. I attempt to takeyou as the reader into the intimacies of my world. I hope to do this in such a way that you are stimulated to reflect upon your own life in relation to mine
~ A. C. Sparkes
The Details of Experience
My auto-ethnography continues as I reflect on my experiences as a learner at this very moment in time. Johnson (1999) defined auto-ethnography as, “Adding the voice, the story, the field experiences of the researcher as data, autoethnography re-focuses the direction of ethnographic inquiry from a unilateral gaze outward at others to either an internal gaze in to the self or a multidirectional analytical gaze in to self and other simultaneously” (as cited in Hausbeck & Brents, 2003, p. 8). I consider myself like a stream flowing into the larger river of higher education. I consider my fellow student’s streams as well as we strengthen individually and together, yet slowly merge collectively into the river. As we learn we carry new ideas and concepts similar to the sand and gravel that is carried along in a stream. In the end we will channel out each in search of our true calling and place in this world.
I find like the stream, that I am in constant motion focusing on reading, writing for discussions and assignments within a learning environment. This also includes reading other student perspectives and responding accordingly usually with quotes from our readings and/or from outside resources which helps to open up dialogue. With every action I take it normally leads me to research in which I thrive on. It displays my independence and being self-directed in how I choose to learn. Research maybe time consuming, but my end result signifies my understanding of the material and helps to clarify when I question something that I am not familiar with.
Furthermore, my experiences as a learner presently can be seen as I transform from the student I was to the student I want to be following the educator I long to be. My experiences have resulted in new knowledge in which I carry with and build upon thanks to the help of fellow students, professors, and theorists. My transformative learning is connected to my experiences as Baumgartner (2001) noted, that the transformational learning process is intuitive, holistically resolving intrapsychic conflicts, and is contextually based” (Baumgartner, para. p. 17). Holistically speaking, learning is a lifelong process from cradle to grave from our first breath to our last. One of my a-ha moments was when I realized, “That in order to learn effectively, my mind, body and soul or spiritual side must be involved.”
Presently, I feel that I am in the midst of transformational learning as Friere referred to it as consciousness-raising (as cited in Dirkx, 1998, para. p. 2). The more I learn, the freer I feel to express myself and to share my knowledge with others. My transformational learning is complex as many theorists resonated with me such as Paulo, Friere, Mezirow, Daloz, and Boyd. I now know how I learn for instance, through symbols, emotions, conflicts, sensory input, hands on, holistically, and by interacting with others. Also, I am learning how to critically think about my philosophy on adult education and the importance of taking an active role as I begin to see the changes in my behavior while I continue on my journey.
Snapshots of my days as a learner are filled with theories and how they describe the adult learner or maybe the stages they follow. I reflect on each new theory that is presented in class, some I have studied before and others I have written papers on in the past. I try to understand new beliefs in which I can expand my own perspectives and make meaning on how I view the world. I agree with some researchers while others I challenge and critically reflect upon them revealing why they are different from my own views.
My days of learning are spent when in my academic zone of critical thinking, reflecting on what data is presented to me, and the need to understand it. I believe I am a rare breed as I get excited with my learning while trying on different lenses to view perspectives unlike my own. As I have said in the past when describing myself, “I am the eternal student.”
I feel like a sponge trying to absorb the vast amount of information given to me. There are times when I’m frustrated and consider myself a slow reader. I find within my chosen program that my skills are challenged as I am constantly reading. I am proud of myself for perfecting my highlighting in books. Before this degree program I would only use the thick side of a marker whereas, today I utilize the thick and thin side (tip). I found that visually I don’t get lost on a page. I have realized that writing little notes in pencil in the margins helps me to focus on what I believe is important in the literatures or articles message. It is becoming obvious that my behavior is changing in how I learn.
Moreover, as a non-traditional student how I learn presently in my social position is connected to today’s technology. Through on-line distance learning I am able to participate in classroom discussions that prompt reflection, I submit assignments, connect with professors, and receive feedback as I sit in front of my computer at home. Every day I am gaining new experiences and knowledge from the communication between myself and other students as I participate in a cooperative learning environment. This dialogue also eases my isolation as I have no family that walks the earth or close friends to speak of at the moment. In addition, I can reach my learning goals and objectives with greater ease.
My computer has become my resource or lifeline for my educational needs by being a digital learning tool incorporating a learner-centered learning environment. It is through the online classroom setting that I gain information in which to reflect upon. It connects to my kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learning needs of how I take in information following my understanding, make meaning of it all and how it relates to my world. I also feel that my online experiences increase my motivation to learn more as I rely less on a professor and more on my own self-direction and initiative while I am taking responsibility for my learning in an educational community setting. I have found that my motivation is also heightened after I complete a reading, a discussion paper or an assignment.
My online courses are considered a community of practice. Lave &Wenger (1991) defined a community of practice as, “…a process of social learning that occurs when people who have a common interest in a subject or area collaborate over an extended period of time, sharing ideas and strategies, determine solutions, and build innovations.” Another community of practice in which I am involved in is the restaurant in which I waitress. I had written about my community of practice last year in a discussion group for a class. I mentioned, “I do not belong to any major groups, but my work environment is a community. Our claim to fame is that Elvis ate there on February 21, 1956 right before hitting it big. We have our regulars, our locals and always a newbie here and there. It is the newbies in which I can practice my spiel of teaching others about our famous day when Elvis enjoyed a meal in a tiny restaurant before hitting it big. I had worked there for two years and was in a class where I was 100% consumed with the social media, FB, Twitter, and WordPress. The owner and I decided to open up networking through all three of the media for promoting the restaurant. I promoted for three months and in that time I created fun facts, Paparazzi Tuesday with Elvis, where I took photos of customers standing next to our life size Elvis statue and posted them on FB, shared photos of food and the specials during holidays. It was a success as two customers were vacationing from Germany and saw the Facebook page and stopped in and locals frequented the site also. On twitter we had about 250 followers, fans of Elvis including chefs and local restaurants would give feedback. On the blog I focused on photos and videos of performances. It was within this community that I played a role in making it an effective community of practice by developing both public and private communities.”
My larger story in how I learn beyond the educational community consists of learning in a holistic manner as I reflect on my self-exploration and my self-knowledge. In self-reflection I can see my identity consisting of my gender being female, my marital status is divorced, my race is white, my sexual orientation is pansexual, my socioeconomic class is below middle class and my religions are Wiccan/Jewish. It is through my reflections that how I learn today is combined with learning about myself, my values, beliefs, perspectives, and experiences. All play a factor in why I want to learn today, what I am learning today and how I will learn today that will affect how I will teach in the future.
In conclusion, this auto-ethnography that I have compiled has given me the opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge that I have collected along the way. It is my snapshot of this moment in time in which patterns in how I learn become apparent and new ones arise. I am inspired and empowered by what has been written thus far and will continue on my learning journey as I learn more about how I learn and will continue to question, “How I understand myself as a learner.”
We do not learn from experience…
we learn from reflecting on experience
~ John Dewey
Reflection on the Meaning
I understand, see, and relate myself as a learner to an onion that has multiple layers. The complexity of my learning incorporates many aspects for instance, my multiple learning styles and cognitive skills as James & Maher commented on cognitive aspects of learning style, “…relate to information-processing habits representing the learner’s typical mode of perceiving, thinking, problem solving, and remembering” (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, p135). Also included are my multiple intelligences, how I approach learning and even the time of day which is most beneficial to my learning. According to Curry (1963) who described the onion model, “To bring order in the multitude of concepts in the field of individual learning differences designed the three-layered onion model. As this model provides an interesting way to distinguish related concepts – such as cognitive styles, learning styles, and approaches to studying…” (as cited in Cools & Bellens, 2011, p. 3).
I have a set of complex multiple intelligences relating to Howard Gardner’s (2003) theory such as solitary/intrapersonal intelligence meaning I am imaginative, original, motived, patient, while having a respect for all and I prefer to learn alone using self-study as mentioned by Lepi (2012) and consider myself disciplined (Nolen, 2003, para. p. 118). The second intelligence that describes my learning capability is spatial/visual referring to picture smart as Lepi (2012) described it as using images, pictures, color and other visual media to help learn. I can connect it to the visual arts as I am an artist who paints scenic scenes, lighthouses, and animals using the medium acrylic (Nolen, 2003, para. p. 117). The third intelligence is logical/mathematical meaning number/reasoning smart as it is the capability to calculate, quantify, and carry out complete numerical operations. I have noted in a past paper, “It symbolizes the ability to think logically, to recognize patterns as well as work with abstract concepts and to be a constant questioner” (Wolfe, 2007, p. 2).
Also, noted by Lepi (2012), “Systems thinking helps you understand the bigger issue.” Forth is the physical/kinesthetic side of learning meaning body smart which entails my learning through hands-on and understanding the world through my body. Nolen (2003) commented, “They have very fine motor skills of the fingers and hands and control of their gross motor movements…their ability to manipulate objects, and carry out delicate movements using precise control (p. 117). Furthermore, Lepi (2012) observed using physical objects as much as possible in how I learn (para.). The next intelligence which is contradictory to solitary is my social/interpersonal intelligence in which I also enjoy learning in a group environment as Lepi (2012) remarked, “You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.” The last is my verbal/ intelligence referring to word smart and my preference to using words in speech and writing (Lepi, 2012, para.). According to Nolen (2003), “They are frequently reading or writing” (p. 115). This coincides with my passion for writing.
My complex learning styles can be seen through the Keirsey tool which confirmed my temperament as the Idealist teacher or ENFJ. Myers-Briggs reported that I am an ESFP. My learning style (s) represents me and how I want my life to be significant in helping to create a world that is a better place for others. It depicts my concern about others, being empathetic, having a need to share my knowledge, and caring. It reveals the need for a holistic learning environment that incorporates all my senses. Understanding my learning styles is crucial according to James & Maher as they described my learning style affective/personality which, “…encompass aspects of personality that are related to motivation, emotion, and valuing are the learner’s typical mode of arousing, directing, and sustaining behavior (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, p.123).
As a student I incorporate strategies that include recognizing social learning preferences, I don’t take negative feedback personally and I identify with environments that support more independent learning (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, para. p. 136). In understanding the aspects of my physiological/perceptual learning I am able to apply this knowledge to learning activities that incorporate a holistic foundation and offer various sensory choices, sensation options, and rely on a perspective of kinesthetic, visual and auditory methods (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, para. p. 134.
I am described by Golay (1982) as a conceptual-global learner. He notes, “That these are considered by many “people-oriented”. They are the socialites that look for meaning and significance in both their education and their lives. These learners are often interested in concepts rather than details. They prefer integrated studies, where they can connect the personal aspect into understanding their world” (as cited in McCann, 2006, p. 16). I also learn through being abstract random. Gregorc & Butler (1984) believe all individuals possess some natural ability in the four channels; however, most individuals possess natural ability in one of the channels more than the others (as cited in Thompson, Orr, Thompson & Park, 2002). Gregorc (n.d.) defines the meaning of abstract as, “This quality allows you to visualize, to conceive ideas, to understand or believe that which you cannot actually see. When you are using your abstract quality, you are using your intuition, your imagination, and you are looking beyond “what is” to the more subtle implications. It is not always what it seems.” Taylor (1997) also described Abstract Random (AR) learners as “…having a capacity to sense moods, and they use intuition to their advantage. They prefer to learn in an unstructured environment such as group discussions and activities. In the future, faculty meetings will be viewed as a time to socialize. They prefer not to be restricted by unnecessary rules and guidelines. Because AR’s continuously discharge energy, they may appear “hyper” when indeed they are not, and AR’s use hand and body movements when communicating. They dislike routine activities and cold, unemotional people” (Taylor, 1997).
Upon reflection I can see certain needs that need to be met in order for me to learn. First, I need holistic methods provided by an educator in a student-learner-centered environment. How will holistic learning environments help me as an adult learner? It is the experiential learning theory which is incorporated in the holistic philosophy in which I need in order to learn as I develop my skills, knowledge and values from experiences that are outside of any traditional academic settings I place myself in. According to Kolb (1984), “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (McLeod, 2013).
Through my experiences as a reader, I have found I need to perform this act during the afternoons and early evening. When writing I am more apt to learn more in the evenings and early mornings. Also, visuals such as videos or images help to me to learn more effectively. I find that learning in a group setting like in my online distance programs is helpful in achieving my academic success and gives me the necessary feedback to improve my communication skills and motivates me to do better. My four letters ENFJ represents the idealist teacher and based on this tool Neuhauser commented, “…that learners who scored high on the NT and NF (intuition) styles would do well in online learning, while learners who scored high on the SP or SJ (sensing) styles would have difficulty (as cited in Santos, 2006, p. 81). Another need I can identify is the requirement to having access to a computer in which to retrieve resources and my online courses as McCann (2006) commented, “Online learning environments then, are used to their highest potential when multiple learning styles are considered that can adapt to the specific needs of the learner” (p. 15).
It is all beginning to make sense to me about how I go about learning. Being an only child and being bullied in a traditional classroom setting connects with my solitary learning. My hands-on needs are fulfilled by having a computer and able to access resources and to continue with my academic program. I have made sense of my need for gold stars and feedback in a learning environment as well as it being associated with my perfectionism and continually moving as a child and adult. I go about my learning through different learning styles which now makes sense in reflection as I have changed some styles in order to suit a situation and learned new ones as I develop as a lifelong learner. I realized that throughout my life I have devised my personal patterns in which I learn based on my belief and values. My history as an adult learner makes sense in that I am a proactive learner and self-directed for instance, my first bachelor’s degree took twelve years to complete, my second bachelor’s took three years to complete and my master’s will probably take a total of four years to complete. And last, it makes sense that I know myself before I can know a student.
My summation is one line: I feel that what I am learning about myself now is for a larger cause…in teaching others how to fulfill their dreams in the future.
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