When I began this class, I knew very little about instructional design and nothing about learning theory, nor did I know much about research and theory around definitions of adulthood, highly philosophical definitions of knowledge itself, or how our brains change as we age (and they myriad ways one can view the lifespan). Though it was one of the first topics we discussed, I must admit that I still struggle with the concept of adulthood. I found each reading’s interpretation and definition of it fascinating, as it’s so nebulous, even to the researchers conducting and analyzing these studies. Each time I thought I had landed on one definition, I found myself thinking another one was perhaps more accurate. That became true of many concepts we explored, which gave me a lot to process from week-to-week, and there’s still a ton of material I’d like to dive into now that the term is over; I have found myself needing to further pick apart some of the assumptions I didn’t even know I was carrying. Though my initial response to Knowles was somewhat aggressive, one of the key take-aways for me personally was how he provided great insight as to how pedagogical approaches impacted me as a learner and how that shaped my emotional response to learning, even now as an adult. Though overwhelming at times, it has been extremely helpful for me to better understand the massive range of factors that influence learning, from high-minded academic theory, to whether someone is learning because they feel obligated to or because they want to.
As you know, I had a lot of thoughts on intergenerational conflict in the workplace, and I truly enjoyed reading more about how these issues can play out (along with potential ways they could be resolved if the experiences of each generation are more fully understood). With workplaces becoming more diverse by the day, these generational differences feel particularly stark; how can a 60-something, white, straight, male CEO possibly understand the perspective of a 20-something, black, gay, female entry-level underling? It’s a heavy burden of emotional labor that many people are unwilling to take on, leading not only to a general feeling of tension at work but to reduced productivity and a shrinking of the talent pool. Yet the last few years of cultural upheaval brought on by the increasingly louder voices of marginalized communities have inspired a backlash of more traditional values, throwing into question the future of workplaces politics (which, until this point, most have assumed would continue on a progressive path). I grapple with these issues a lot in my role at HBS, which is very traditional some ways and very diverse/progressive in others, but of course I also know that I am privileged to live in a liberal area like Boston.
The nitty-gritty of learning about various sources of motivation, coupled with a thorough outline of how instructors might contribute to the crumbling of that motivation, brought up a lot of questions and concerns about adult learners that I hadn’t before considered. Many of them were obvious once I saw them in print, but being able to analyze them in such detail really rounded out my perspective on how to address the needs of adult learners. It’s a bit intimidating in many ways—how do you reach everyone?—yet the ability to not only empathize with students but capitalize on their experiences is critical to quality instruction. From my own experience, supported by the readings, I also now understand much more clearly how emotional responses to various life experiences and changes, plus our fears and insecurities, can cause us to get in our own way by resisting change; this is another nuance that must be considered in learning design. Though adult learners needs’ are complex, there is a great deal of pleasure and excitement to be found in inspiring them to take control of their learning and improve their lives on many levels (whether making career changes or moving toward self-actualization).
I’ve already said quite a bit in other blog posts and in the discussion board about what did and didn’t resonate with me in the learning theories we’ve explored, so I will end by saying that it’s appropriate that we finished the term with connectivism because—despite my many issues with some of its tenets—I make a great deal of meaning out of connecting ideas across disciplines and contexts. There were more than enough opportunities to do that within the class itself (and I think, as a group, we all did an excellent job of that!), but I also saw a lot of overlap between this class and my Harvard Extension School class (Mindfulness, Meaning, & Resilience). The class provided an interesting and useful contrast in terms of how the two courses were set up differently—online versus in person, lots of small tasks versus just a few big papers, etc.—but there were many instances of lightbulbs going off while doing readings for each, realizing how much the two had in common. Both courses had a lot to say about how we make meaning in our lives, how we learn, how we are constantly getting in our own way, how compassion leads to the betterment of humanity, how important it is to be connected to the people around us, and the importance of understanding how we can boost cognition for ourselves and for others (in particular, how advanced skills such as metacognition increase our capacity to learn and grow). Soon enough I will be taking exclusively instructional design-oriented courses, but I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take these two courses in general and concurrently. It’s been a challenging semester, as I’ve found myself quite overwhelmed on many occasions, but I have come out of it knowing that I have learned a lot. I don’t know who is still reading this, but just in case: thank you to all of my classmates and to Christin for opening my mind!