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Staff Leadership and Management

Some Things Don’t Change: Rethinking Adult Learning

adults learning through outdoor play

When it comes to how kids and adults learn, there are similar dynamics that are very important to acknowledge and foster.

I find at times, that folks get really focused on noting the differences across our various developmental stages/ages. Even though it’s important to understand these differences, it sometimes limits if/how we create learning environments that are engaging and experiential for adults.

Okay, sure, we can sit through hours of a presenter talking at us and still learn and take away good information. But, really, is that tapping into the potential of our time to learn together as educators and community leaders? And, hold up…we rarely have this time! If there’s one take-away from this blog, my hope is that you’re motivated to rethink how we approach professional development for our field.

Better yet, I hope that you feel affirmed about what we’re already doing.

I remember when I was a site coordinator and beginning to explore my options of working in a youth-serving capacity. My first reaction was…I want to become a teacher. I remember mapping out how I was going to change my college major, from business to education. I shared these plans with Glen, who was my onsite coach/trainer at the time. When I shared, “I want to become a teacher,” he said something along the lines of, “what if I said you already are a teacher.” That one comment really set the course of my career. It made me begin to rethink how kids learn, challenging traditional methods from my own public school experience.

engaged adult learning

Glen was also the person that encouraged me to explore being a coach/trainer for other programs. I started going to any training I could find. And to be honest, A LOT of these trainings were flat out boring. Glen encouraged me to take key elements of our program – high level of energy, sense of belonging, active engagement, and community values – and bring them to life in adult learning settings. And I have been blessed to have many opportunities to do just that. These elements or conditions support an environment where both kids and adults can learn and grow.

Extreme examples of where this notion of experiential learning for adults seems to be lost…

  •  Creating a PowerPoint presentation on youth engagement and/or embracing youth voice;
  •  Lecturing on inquiry; and/or
  •  Showing video after video.

Here’s an example of experiential learning for adults:

I recently did a trust walk activity with a group of new hires, just about to begin their journey working with kids. They were asked to pair up with someone; they were then to choose one person to be the guide while the other closed his/her eyes. They were then instructed to safely walk outside of the room, navigating the tables, chairs, etc. Once completed, we asked the group if anyone opened their eyes and why. For those that answered “yes,” they reasoned that: “I just met this person,” “I’m not familiar with the space/environment,” and/or, “I have a hard time with trust.”

Those that answered “no” explained: “We took some time to discuss the challenge and get to know each other,” “my partner was really clear with his/her communication,” and/or “I was confident in the facilitators and knew they were looking out for my safety.” Participants felt the power of trust and experienced it in a way that was relevant to how it will support their new/upcoming work with kids.

The BOOST Conference has so many of these same conditions that allow us to grow and learn. You can have fun, be with friends, meet new people and explore ideas. It is intentionally designed to be an experience from start to finish, in which there are so many ways to gain knowledge and skills.

For breakfast, I had a hard-boiled egg and ants on a log (with no ants!).

Author Profile: @zachwilson

This post originally appeared on the Breakfast Club Blog on January 29, 2016.

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