Informal Learning: A Work-place Application
An Assignment for EDLT 727, Dr. Sarah Haavind, Professor
Key Idea: Reading is a universal issue for all of us. It is important to provide reading opportunities for those who have worked hard to parent, provide, and protect us.
Key Words: Informal Learning, National Read-a-Thon
“Believing that one can initiate and sustain change is a key piece of making change possible.” Wenger-Trayner, Learning in Landscapes of Practice, p. 143
The Pruett Gerontology Center (PGC) is a non-profit research-oriented institution located onsite at a private West Texas university. It is appropriately situated to serve as a catalyst for Wenger-Trayner’s “convening role across complex landscapes of practice” (Location 3769). The PGC also fits Benkler’s label of a “commons-based, open organization” because its resources are available to anyone without membership requirement or fee (2006, Location 832).
Gerontology is a biological, psychological, and social stage in personality development. The PGC adopts Erikson’s “stage” approach (1959). Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development has eight distinct stages, which develop after a period of psychological struggle (Figure 1). Erikson’s stages follow a progression from trust to autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity, and integrity. Older adults are represented in the “Integrity” stage of life.
According to Erikson (1959), our path through life develops as a series of successfully resolved social adjustments. Each adjustment phase is the potential marker of later health and pathology. Erikson’s stages involve establishing a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in society, and helping the next generation prepare for the future.
Members of the National Gerontological Society called Sigma Phi Omega wanted to impact their surrounding community in an authentic and sustainable manner. Sigma Phi Omega, with its self- decentralized structure and self-selected projects may also fit Benkler peer-production idea originally describing corporations rather than hierarchically assigned (2006, Location 1386). Within walking distance of the university campus a local assistive living center had expressed a desire to have volunteers engage with the residents on a frequent basis. For the previous semester, students had discussed a variety of ways to add a service learning component to their honor society experience.
During the month of January, the National Book Foundation promoted the National Read-a-Thon. Following Kotter’s Model for change, I guided the students to distill their ideas and commit to one event. I used blog posts to promote “Save the Date” and university media and graphic tools to create several posters of varying sizes to display onsite and around the university campus to generate interest and awareness. The PGC underwrote the cost of the posters.
Graphic by Helen Teague
(click on each tiny square above to see the picture it represents)
PGC advocates for Aging in Place, Lifestyle Redesign, and Role Navigation. Aging in Place refers to older adults remaining in their chosen environment safely for as long as possible. Lifestyle redesign involves creatively reconfiguring, adapt, and simply their environment. Either change the environment or change how you move in the environment. To honor and reinforce this goal, reading selections for the Reading Parties were customized for the resident population. Novels of true crime, suspense, erotica, and war stories were not recommended for inclusion into the onsite library. Large-print books were favored as were books by local authors. Some residents preferred to have university students read to them. Some preferred to read silently and discuss portions of the book afterward.
To reinforce the community strength in our landscapes of practice (Wenger-Trayner et al, 2015), I encouraged a discussion of to bring age-appropriate snacks for their event. The University has an auxiliary support group of women who are known for their home-made sweets and casseroles. This group agreed to provide the snacks for the event. The PGC underwrote the cost of the snacks. A local store donated the paper plates and napkins from the overstock. In picking up the paper plates, cups, napkins, and tablecloth from the store, one of the students said, “I did not even know about this store. It feels great the someplace in town wants to help.” Some of the pictures from the event show the growing collegiality and mutuality of the informal learning process: http://blogs.acu.edu/pruettgerontology/2015/01/27/turning-the-page-on-read-a-thon/ and at this link: http://4oops.edublogs.org/2015/01/28/informal-learning-with-read-a-thon/
Returning to Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages, the integrity stage is marked by a healthy process of life review. An example of a component of a healthy process of Life Review occurs when older adults begin to tell stories to others. Sometimes during this time of story organization, life events are reinterpreted and rearranged. According to Erikson, a successful transition through the process of Life Review will make them better prepared for death. The Healthy Process of life review when older adults begin to tell stories and reinterpret life events. Erickson calls this “integrity”. How do you hear and reflect back when people want to tell their stories. The patience to let them tell their story. Eric Erickson, psychosocial stages says that this process of life review will make them better prepared for death. Talking about death is natural for them. Not to initiate but receive it. When they reach a point of integrity where they are not afraid of death but are accepting of it as a part of the life cycle.
Students’ survey responses indicated that they experiences this Life Review event during the Reading Party day. They had become acquainted with the Life Review by completing a prior interview assignment from their gerontology class. They experienced the Life Review exchange again during their “Reading Parties” visits. Their landscape of practice included both classroom learning and conversational exchanges.
In post-event and post-survey peer-to-peer sharing within Sigma Phi Omega meetings and orientation with personnel at the assisted living center how to hear and reflect back to older adults when they wanted to tell the stories of their life was a primary lesson to learn.
What is the best way to hear and reflect back when people want to tell their stories? Erikson’s Integrity Stage requires listeners to practice patience to let them tell their story. Not to initiate a follow-up story but to receive the story from the speaker and acknowledge and validate it.
Students in the Life Review conversation are wise to remember the distinction between human “beings” and human “doings” (Dyer, 2010 p. 39). Students must be still and listen. They must listen actively and intently. They cannot just rehearse their response while an older adult is speaking. They must actively analyze what is most meaningful to an older person and try to get back to that, either in reality practice or in recreating and validating the experience through storytelling interaction.
Often in conversation, there is a tendency to add to what another is saying. For example, Speaker A may begin talking about their grandchildren. Listener A may decide that they will extend the conversation by talking about their own younger brothers and sisters, cousins, children they babysit, etc… This changes the roles from Speaker to Listener is counterproductive to the healthy life review process.
Discussions with personnel at the assisted living facility, residents at the assisted living facility, and students individually and in the group revealed that the initial “Read-a-Thon” Reading Party was successful and all participants wanted to build on their “short-term wins” and continue events (Kotter, 1996, p. 117). We began to increase our “Guiding Coalition” (Kotter, 1996, p. 51). We added community members from our local library, our workforce commission, and faculty from our Sociology and Social Work departments.
Invitation To Peer Review
We also began to look for sustainable funding. One avenue we pursued with the “Careers in Aging Week” grant. Working together we co-created a proposal to fund the key components previously funded by the PGC. I researched best practices and created a Google Doc to hold the text I wrote for the initial grant proposal. An editable link was sent to our new guiding coalition who made edits and comments.
Grant Proposal Peer Review
The entire grant document was submitted by midnight on February 2 by the PGC Director and the Sigma Omega President. Because of a family event, they compiled they worked in my absence. That, to me is the beauty of participatory design after an informal learning event: the interchangeability of roles of “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” (Feeler, 2012, p. 163). We hope to hear the status of our application (whether we won) by the end of March.
The informal learning first experienced in the “Reading Parties” has grown now to a “Painting Nails Day Party” has grown to a mutually beneficial intergenerational and informal learning experience.
Student Peer-to-Peer Communication
The informal learning also achieved a renewed focus on Filial piety. Rooted in Confucianism and the Bible (Deuteronomy 5:16, Matt 15:5-6, Luke 15:21, John 4:20), Filial piety refers to honoring parents as a prime responsibility. Confined originally to families with an older relative, with over 23,400,000 people in the country who are over 65 years of age the responsibility of care grows to include members of the community. As Director, Dr. Charles Pruett states, “Today is the first time in history that the younger members of the tribe have to tell the older people in the tribe where they fit in the society.”
Course Alignment: Include a sentence that specifically states how the project is connected with the content of this class. 1.) Understand how to harness the way social networks and communities share knowledge. This project will utilize social media tools to query, organize, plan, and analyze a service learning outreach in our local community by local authors, local library and city leaders, and our local university students serving in a service learning group.
2.) Identify social networks and informal communities in the workplace. This project will use participatory planning to connect university students, with the non-profit Pruett Gerontology Center in a service learning project for older adults in an assisted living center close to the University campus.
3.) Identify technologies and strategies that facilitate collaboration, knowledge capture, and sharing. This project will utilize the following social media tools: google docs, email, text, Skype, blog posts, Camtasia, and Cincopa.
4. & 5.) Acquire strategies for building and supporting formal online (networked) learning.
This project began with a partnership between local university students and the on-campus non-profit PGC. After a successful first event launch and an invitation to continue Reading Party concept, the student group and PGC staff decided to apply for grant funding to ensure sustainability and to recruit community group members to strengthen partnerships for successful continued implementation.
Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. Yale University Press.
Dyer, W. (2010). The shift: Taking your life from ambition to meaning. Hay House, Inc.
Erikson, E. H., Paul, I. H., Heider, F., & Gardner, R. W. (1959). Psychological issues (Vol. 1). International Universities Press.
Feeler, W. (2012). Being there: A grounded-theory study of student perceptions of instructor presence in online classes (Order No. 3546663). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global; ProQuest Dissertations and Theses A&I: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (1266830430). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1266830430?accountid=13159
Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press.
Matthews, W. (2012). World religions. Cengage Learning.
National Book Foundation, http://nationalbook.org/2015_readathon.html#.VPEHOGc5CxA
Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2014). Learning in Landscapes of Practice. Learning in Landscapes of Practice: Boundaries, Identity, and Knowledgeability in Practice-based Learning, 13.