I have done a significant amount of coursework in adult learning. I’ve read the canon. I’ve taught classes to other educators on adult learning. I’ve published a chapter.
Furthermore, I’ve been accused of being an adult learner. In the first year of my doctoral program, a random faculty member stopped me in the hallway to shake me by the shoulders and say emphatically: “YOU (shake) are the ultimate adult learner! WE (shake) are WATCHING (shake) your EVERY MOVE (shake shake). I can’t WAIT to see WHAT YOU DO (shhhhaaakkkkeeeee)!”
So, I am an adult educator and learner, blah blah blah. When I tweeted this today –
adult learning – particularly when the adult doesn’t want to learn what they are being taught – is a tricky thing.
— Laura Gogia (@GoogleGuacamole)
it had special meaning to me, but it was not intended to be particularly insightful to the casual reader. Every adult educator knows that adults learn better with ‘just in time’ learning and in ‘need to know’ situations. At some level, most adults have to want to learn what they are learning, they have to need to learn whatever it is that they are learning, or they aren’t learning it. Period.
Granted, I’ve never been the average adult. I tend to be curious about everything and capable of learning a lot…well…almost everything. I’ll start learning something before I’m actually legitimately interested in it and without particular need (at least what the average adult would designate as need). That being said, I have a profoundly big blind spot in terms of computer programming and auto repair.
Unfortunately, I have actively and repeatedly turned down invitations to learn anything related to coding and auto repair. Other than how to change my font size in html, I know (actually, now that should be ‘knew’) nothing.
I’ve spent significant time reflecting on my unusual and striking lack of interest. There’s some deeply ingrained gender bias-type things involved that I’m not sure I’ve fully unpacked, even now. Computers and cars don’t play a role in how I see myself, my work, my past experience, or future goals. Also, I’ve always been in situations where the potential teachers are men…the lack of female role models hasn’t helped whatever gender things are going on in my head. In related news, I hate being wrong in front of anyone, but particularly men (it goes back to my medical days where I worked alone in environments of blatant and not-so-blatant sexual harassment and sexism) and when you mix all this together, I have to say it:
I am Laura Gogia MD PhD, and I am intimidated by networked computers and servers and mainframes and software installation and people who know what these things are. Also cars and mechanics, but that’s a different blog post.
About a month ago I was told I would be learning how to code for my job. It was really quite unexpected. In fact, if I had known I would need to learn these things there’s a decent chance I might have turned the job down or not applied for it in the first place, because of the bolded statement I just made.
QUERY: Having to learn things unexpectedly is the norm for my work. I’m good at it. So how come coding felt so different?
ANSWER: This is the first time ever that I have very real, deeply-held personal barriers to what it was I was being asked to learn.
Learning to code has been a pain in the ass. I have been angry – really angry – at myself, at my current the situation, at my previous education, at my previous workplaces. My anger has been exacerbated by and exacerbating for the grief I felt over moving beyond my phd. I have been depressed – really depressed. I have wanted to give up and walk away.
I am willing to bet that this is the way many adults feel when they try to learn something new, particularly when they are told they have to learn it for work. Finally, I am getting a taste of what it’s like to be a real everyday adult learner.
I tend to get emotional about things, but I also always have a strategy. Like I said, I know the adult ed literature. I know that motivation is everything, so I grabbed onto every personal reason to learn coding that I could find: keep my job, develop a skillset for the resume, be a model for my kids, develop my brain in new and interesting ways. The reason didn’t matter, as long as it worked in the moment.
I also knew that expertise begets interest begets expertise. The better I get at something, the more interesting it becomes, the more internally motivated I am, the better I will get. Just. Keep. Working. Things. Will. Happen. It’s my mantra for everything. Most of the time it works.
This time, it’s working. I’m going to be fine.
But what else is important? The teacher. To have someone you can trust, who gives a little space for you to be angry or depressed or frustrated or wrong or just plain weird – this is important. So big collective thanks to all the teachers out there who make this happen for adult learners everyday. You are really important too. Good job. And thank you.