Adult Learning Context and Perspectives /MY LEARNING CONTEXT ESSAY

Adult Learning Context and Perspectives

Task 1 – Essay

Intercontinental Master’s Program in Adult Learning and Global Change

Course: Adult learning: Perspectives and Contexts  Task 1: Essay

Instructors: Madeleine Abrandt Dahlgren, Song-ee Ahn, Per Andersson

Discussion Group: The Colleagues                              Date: October 11, 2008

ESSAY

For this essay I have chosen to present some aspects of my current learning and teaching experience, two faces of the coin, within the larger context of my personal, professional and academic experiences. I will be using some of the thoughts posted on Itslearning and develop them further.


Historical background

Historically, I like to consider my several experiences as a continuing evolving platform for my learning.

I grew up within a traditional European schooling system that emphasized a humanistic approach to learning, but was also highly behavioral in its teaching philosophy. We were told what to read and learn, and “knowledge” was the amount of information that we were able to store in our brain.

Later I had the privilege to pursue my undergraduate degree at S.I.T, World Learning’s School for International Training, a non-traditional education university based in Brattleboro, VT, U.S.A. In retrospect, that was the most valuable and formative learning experience in my life and it is this latter educational approach that is influencing my current learning context the most.

Since then the context of my learning has developed as a shell for my eclectic growth rather than as a linear collection of units. The combination of formal and informal learning opportunities, professional practice and personal development and self-reflection has created a web-like narrative that I can call “my life”.  Within that context my learning develops as a complex process.

All these learning experiences are self-directed in their nature, even when they occur within an institutional structure such as the ALGC program.

In this short essay I will use my own background and experience to address some of the aspects suggested for this assignment.

Kind of situations in which people learn

I believe that people learn in different ways. It is not good to attempt to use one single learning philosophy for all aspects of learning, even though a constructivist approach is likely to be a better fit for most learning situations.

My experience with teaching foreign languages leads me to formulate some thoughts on whether this latter approach is always appropriate. I will do this in a narrative manner, thus avoiding academic discussions on this issue. What follows is an account from my personal perspective.

A language is probably the most important building block in communication. It incorporates many features that will ensure that the meaning of communication is preserved as accurately as possible when a message is sent to a recipient.

I subscribe to the belief that people learn best when they are given the tools to express themselves along lines that will ensure clear and smooth communication. Learning a language is in many ways a step-by-step process and, not unlike the development of expertise; there are no short cuts to building language proficiency. Of course, over the decades different teaching methodologies for foreign language learning have been established. In my view, however, the process of language acquisition is such that does not allow for quick results such as those presented in many of today’s commercial spots for phenomenal methods.

With that in mind, I believe that an open-ended constructivist approach (radical constructivism?) is not necessarily the best way to learn a foreign language. Learners cannot build their own linguistic reality, separate from the reality of the target language. By definition, a language is a convention, a set of rules and words to express ideas and thoughts, rooted in a specific cultural context. If we were to change those conventions and make them more personal, we would end up with many language variations, which can be an interesting learning and cultural experiment, but which will eventually mean the brake down of effective communication.

Having said that, even though foreign language teachers cannot be mere observers of their students’ learning experience, thereby allowing them to construct their own language reality ( that would turn the world into a Tower of Babel), they should find ways to allow students to explore the language issues presented to them, and find their own way to understand the workings of the target language( “knowledge” ).

There are of course many techniques that can be effectively used for this purpose. An analysis of this topic would unfortunately exceed the conciseness required in this essay.

Important consideration should also be given to each foreign language student’s proficiency level. I believe that the higher the level, the greater the chances are for self-directed investigation of specific linguistic issues.

A teacher seems to walk a fine rope, where it’s easy to slip into an uncontrolled teaching mode, or to fall back on a strict behavioral teaching approach. As in the case of other subjects, I think it is the foreign language teacher’s pivotal task to foster an environment based on collaborative learning, thereby giving students as much freedom as the institutional and linguistic confinements may allow.

Conclusions

When choosing between traditional and less traditional learning approaches we need to consider many aspects, including those listed in the suggestions for this assignment: the institution in which learning occurs; the conditions under which people learn; the physical resources available to them; the human network that can support students in their learning (tutors, mentors, learning communities, learning partners, teachers, etc.); what works and what doesn’t work in a certain learning environment.

This latter point is best approached through reflection, external evaluation, self-reflection, self-evaluation, and student assessment.

I believe that productive learning will benefit from an ongoing evaluation of all the components and actors that are operating within a specific learning context.

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