The Adventure of Adult Learning
A friend of mine recently opened up her fortune cookie and read the little slip of paper. “Pleasant experiences make life delightful. Painful experiences lead to growth.” Imagine that. Isn’t this similar to what the first chapter of James tells us about spiritual growth? Here, we read that painful experiences lead to a maturing of our faith. In the midst of such experiences, we’re reminded that God is doing a great work deep down inside of us. (James 1:2-4)
The same principle applies to learning in everyday life. Adult learning theory calls the painful experiences that lead to growth a disorientating dilemma. A disorientating dilemma is “a phase in which confusion, anxiety, and tensions increase and the learner experiences a crisis of self-confidence.”[i] Our existing knowledge and prior experience isn’t sufficient to help us cope with our new, unfamiliar situation. My friends, truly deep significant learning usually starts with some type of a disorientating dilemma.
Think about the last time you moved. Does this in anyway describe how you felt before, during, and shortly after your arrival to your new location? Think about the last time your husband deployed. My guess is that confusion and anxiety are a few of the emotions you may have experienced at that time. What about the day your youngest child went off to college, leaving your once full nest suddenly empty? Our lives are filled with everyday, disorientating dilemmas.
The adventure of learning begins when we respond to our disorientating dilemma. We might read everything we can get our hands on pertaining to the subject matter. We might talk to others who have gone through similar experiences. We search the web for insights and answers. Eventually, we reach a saturation point and stop our pursuit of gathering information.
The next phase of deeply significant learning is that of reflection. Through the process of reflection, we sift through and evaluate external stimuli. We reflect upon all the information we’ve gathered. We think about the ideas and events of the information gathering process. We slowly begin to form new ideas, creating new meanings and perspectives as we redefine our understanding of our situation. We might share our new thoughts or ideas with others, gaining the confidence to put new ways of behaving into practice.
As the new ways of thinking and behaving are tested out and positively reinforced, they gradually become our ‘new normal.’ We once again begin to act in an unconscious, taken-for-granted manner – that is until we find ourselves faced with another disorientating dilemma. At that point, the learning cycle starts all over again. As you can see, learning is a never-ending process.
So if you’ve recently found yourself in a painful experience or some type of disorientating dilemma, take heart. You are on the brink of an exciting learning adventure. God wants to take you to a deeper level of understanding, faith and trust. Hang on the best you can. I think you’ll like the new person who’s waiting for you on the other end!
[i] MacKeracher, D. (2004). Making Sense of Adult Learning. Toronto, Canada: Toronto Press. Pg. 64