Reflections on myself as an adult learner
Who am I as an adult learner:
I am framing the answer within the context of my “Big 5” (Strelecky, 2007). The “Big 5” focus my thoughts about self, purpose, mission and values. In Strelecky’s work, the Big 5 are 5 things you want to accomplish in your life. My “Big 5” are all states of being, roles that I want to live with the highest quality (arête). My Biog 5 are: father, husband, teacher, student, warrior,
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: ENTJ I am getting closer to the “I” as I get older which moves me from “Leader” to “Scientist” in the typology. My scores are very high on the NT domain, which gives me a global, theoretical perspective. I notice that I am always searching for the broadest generalizations that can be made from an incident, or the widest application of an idea. It doesn’t take much for me to go off on a tangent. I am least happy when bringing a project to a conclusion, as it feels stifling and disconnected from the dynamic world around me. Finality and endings are disturbing to me, and I dislike graduation ceremonies above all else. I am much more at home in the developmental and conceptual phases of any project. I get bored easily by data gathering and have learned to offload that task to others. I am a good project manager, as I have learned to build teams of various skills and aligning tasks with strengths.
Kolb Learning Style Indicator:
The Kolb LSI measures self-reported preferences along 2 dimensions: Concrete experience-Abstract conceptualization and Active experimentation-Reflective observation. These 2 dimensions reflect how we prefer to gather our information about the world and then how we prefer to make sense of it. The intersection of these 2 dimensions establishes 4 quadrants, and can be used as a way to describe a classroom population as well as individual learners. We use this model extensively at the Command & General Staff College, and I have become convinced of its practical uses when used within reason.
In this model, I am classified as an “Assimilator”, which combines a preference for Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualization. This means I don’t need to spend too long “in the moment”, fully experiencing every nuance of the moment; I am always ready to begin reflecting on its dimensions, characteristics, descriptions and classifications. As an Abstract Conceptualist, I proceed to place experiences within my larger world view, as a particular example of a class of experiences. I spend little time in active experimentation to validate the data, once satisfied that it makes theoretical sense.
These preferences are helpful when approaching new material where the connection to theory is strong or explicit, because it satisfies my need to be situated in the world. I am comfortable with complexity and nuance and am competent at brainstorming and imagining future scenarios.
The downside of my preferences is that I am prone to overlook deep subtleties in experiences especially if the situation is slow moving. The idea of sitting in a duck blind for hours waiting for birds is my idea of hell on earth. I am also prone to accept theoretical justification as truth and am willing to short change practical validation of new concepts simply because of the theoretical elegance.
As a consequence of knowing this about myself, I find it necessary to do sitting meditations to work on my mindfulness and presence in the moment, to learn to appreciate the experience simply on its own merits, without a need to explain it or frame it as part of a larger construct. On group projects I am careful to include pragtmatists and naysayers who will insist on evidence and results from fair trials before we adopt policy changes.
These strengths and weaknesses, and my accommodations to the limitations of my learning preferences are an integral part of my business success as an equity trader which puts a value of new ideas, but also on backtesting and forward risk management.
Brainmodepower typology: AVK, global.
I am off the chart on the audio learning, and on the globalization scale. I have now noticed that when I am really trying to concentrate on learning I do not look at the person talking, but need to doodle in order to free my ears to hear. Doodling helps me occupy my eyes and hands (visual and kinesthetic modes). This has been a problem for others in the past when they would say “Look at me and pay attention!” when I was doing my best to pay attention.
2 stories from combat on this topic which reinforces the power of the insight: On a night attack, wearing night vision goggles I had high explosive rounds land near me and “whiteout” my night vision goggles, and I lost my night vision for about 15 minutes: I was able to command my company though because I could hear what was going on via the radio and I had a sense of where things were based on noise, sounds, and the volume of fire. A few days later, in the daylight, I had a hand grenade land very near to me and I didn’t have my earplugs in. I was deafened for about an hour before my hearing returned, and it was the most frightening experience I had ever had. I felt absolutely cut off from the world and was unable to command effectively. It was terrifying, even though I could see everyone around me and could consult a map.
I am a fast reader and I prefer to read in burst of 10-20 minutes, rendering my notes in visual, mindmapping form. I will generally develop detailed cognitive maps and turn them into slides as cues for recalling detail and cognitive structure. I take semi-structured notes on standard note-taking forms that I have developed over the years to suit my style. I will often color code the notes to make structure even more apparent. When I review notes from my Masters program (15 years ago), they make perfect sense to me and I can recall the circumstances of the classroom and the moment as if no time has passed. This form of “chunking” supports my assimilating style.
At any given moment I may be engaged in reading up to 20 books at a time in various locations, and I follow my mood or sense of urgency for picking up the next book to read. When I find myself drifting I stop and do something else until my attention is focused, rather than trying to force concentration.
I can concentrate for hours at a time in reading if needed, but I prefer the shorter bursts when my mind is feeling especially sticky. Learning to crate feelings of “sticky mind” is an essential part of my practice of sitting meditation, which Buddhists call “child’s mind”.
I will rarely read a book from cover to cover, preferring to read from top down and outside in, by examining the covers, introduction and forward, table of contents, index and references and chapter summaries first, and then come back to the book after 24 hours when that has had time to digest and become embedded. I will then skim chapters based on my interests, and finally skim the whole book. I have adapted this technique from Mortimer Adler’s “How To Read A Book” (Adler, 1940) and it has helped me integrate a lot of material from a broad array of fields.
I am not very good in free form dialogues of material, preferring to hear structured presentations that reflect deep inquiry on the part of the presenter. Lectures are excellent for me as I can listen carefully, while doodling and seeming to daydream in my own personal comfortable space. I enjoy writing and working on a topic while having a background lecture playing, trusting that if something interesting is being said that I will tune in to it. Some of my most creative work is done in this manner in the apparent cognitive dissonance set up by 2 different information streams. I am listening to a Teaching Company presentation on Chaos by Dr Stephen Strogatz as I write this.
My biggest problem as an adult learner is procrastination and time management, since I am always eager to read one more thing before generating my final conclusions. I also find it difficult to recast my theoretical framework of information once established and will generally try to find ways to accommodate pieces of my original insight in an evolving understanding. I try to delay taking final positions in order to gather more information for this reason.
I find it amusing that despite a strong rational component, and a structured approach to learning, that my decisionmaking and sensemaking is much more intuitive than rational. I trust my instinct far more than my conscious mind. This is a habit perhaps ingrained into me from 15 years of being an infantryman in combat and trusting my senses in dangerous situations. This habit of mind is so odd that it is even the subject of discussion among peers who know me well and wonder how I can be so rational and yet make instinctive, intuitive decisions.
I have been teaching in the Command & General Staff College for 8 years and have reinvented my whole approach to teaching as a result of the action research inquiry while attending CTU. While I acknowledge the need for competence at the data level I also have become much more aware of the importance of the social level of learning. I no longer think that learning and education are like filling up a pail, but are rather like lighting a fire (to paraphrase Yeats).
I am trying to create an educational space in the classroom, in the college, and in my professional work that encourages and supports free inquiry, a commitment to truth and academic freedom, and both a respect for and a seeking out of diverse perspectives and points of view. As a teacher in the classroom I try to model the behavior I seek from students, by the quality of my preparation, a concern for the learning and perspectives of others, and a willingness to be vulnerable in my ongoing search for knowledge. I am encouraging as many means of formal and informal feedback as possible to help students shape their own educational programs and outcomes. I encourage and support their inquiry in my classes and through support of their independent studies. I reach out to other colleges and programs to create networks of learners and to act as a catalyst for learning.
I respect the action research construct of multiple ways of knowing (experiential, presentational, propositional, and practical) and acknowledge the learning that can happen through 1st person, 2d person and 3d person action research.
I favor the connectivist learning school of thought being developed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes at University of Manitoba, as I believe it represents a realistic, sound, robust and challenging way of developing knowledge and practice to appreciate and thrive under conditions of uncertainty. More at: http://www.elearnspace.org/
As part of my research I am looking carefully at how to add Voice to the environment by encouraging, supporting and promoting the diverse needs, intentions and inquiries of faculty, students and curriculum developers in a way that advocates a move away from an industrial age view of curriculum and towards one of connectivism and individuality. In this sense I have taken on an advocacy perspective that is values-based but which respects the perspectives of other members of the action research teams that make up the projects.
My role as a father influences my role as a student. One of the important reasons for me to begin the doctoral program was to set a personal example for my kids, who at ages 18, 15, 11 are getting to see their dad doing his homework and reading books every night as a priority. My father set the same example for me as a kid as he went to night school to work his way up the engineering ladder from “shop rat “to full-fledged design engineer. I’ve been trying to re-learn math and physics to be able to keep up with my son who is getting ready to go to college next year to be a physicist or an engineer, but just like in video games, I believe he has passed me for good. I am content to listen to him and get him the occasional book to feed his curiosity.
Husband: without my wife’s support I could not have dreamed of taking on the active role of student once more; in fact she finally told me to stop moping around and dreaming about it and just get it done. I need that boost from her to get moving at times. I want her to be proud of my work and my goals.
I use Warrior in the eastern sense, as one who is called, by his dharma, to seek mastery of self first in order to protect the weak and promote justice and compassion in the world. This calling is well described in Trungpa (1984). In this sense, my role as an adult learner is to focus on those things that I ought to be learning in order to improve my practice; to find worthy teachers and learn from them; to questions my own assumptions and preconceived knowledge in order to step outside what I already think I know and to follow my beliefs to their core to find the source.
Warrior learning also has a strong service component, and so the topics for inquiry, the choices for action research must satisfy the “so what” question, must be directed towards a virtuous end. For me, the choice to do action research within my college represents a way to do the right thing in support of my duty to country and soldiers whom I support. Action research’s methodology strongly supports these values, particularly when fellow inquirers are positioned as co-researchers.
Adler, M. & Van Doren, C. (1940). How to read a book. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Strelecky, J. (2007). The big five for life: Leadership’s greatest secrets. New York: St Martins’ Press.
Trungpa, C. (1984). Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior. Boston: Shambala Publications.