This Is Not About Beer

Thanks to riebschlager on Flickr for allowing use of this photo!

Tap,tap, tap.

Last week this article about our PLA students was published:

A look at students who have earned credit for prior learning (Inside Higher Ed)

The comments are interesting, and frankly not at all surprising to me. Most higher ed faculty likely won’t “get it” until they GET IT. I actually suspect that lot of faculty don’t have much experience with adults in their classrooms or offices; maybe they really don’t know the depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise — and commitment, and focus, and intention — that adults can bring with them to higher education.

Still, I know that some folks will never get it, because getting it would require a major shift in thinking (dare I say in perspective) about how and where legitimate learning happens. If we continue to operate from a delivery / teaching / pour my knowledge out of my full head into their empty heads paradigm of education, then of course PLA doesn’t make sense, and it won’t ever make sense.

Until the paradigm changes. Until we move from a “pour it out and in” model to a “tap into it” model of learning.

What was rewarding about this piece being published, despite the critiques (some of which were just mean, by the way), is that I heard from several people who thanked me for helping spread the word about what good PLA can look like. Of course I didn’t do much: it was our students who did the work and who were willing to tell it like it is — like they experienced it. Nonetheless, many thanks to Paul Fain (you can follow him) who heard my call to tell their side of the story.

Now it seems like the higher ed conversation is all about these amazing things called MOOCs — including this great post about The March of the MOOCs that my colleague Jesse over at Hybrid Pedagogy wrote. Next week (starting August 12th) he’s offering a MOOC on MOOCs. I hope that in this course we will interrogate the educational paradigms that different MOOC forms seem to be informed by. To what extent are MOOCs reinforcing the delivery / teaching / pour my knowledge into their empty heads paradigm?  To what extent might they challenge this paradigm, or create a new paradigm? To what extent can something like this support deep, meaningful learning? To what extent can MOOCs tap into people’s prior knowledge, pull it out, challenge it if appropriate, build on it, and make it better?

I hope MOOCs will eventually tap, and not pour, so I am keeping an open and hopeful mind about MOOCs, and I am willing to learn and to have my own perspectives challenged and changed. I’d certainly hope that people slamming PLA might be willing to learn and have their perspectives changed, too — or at least to consider the possibility of learning that happens a different way.

Tap, tap, tap.

Thanks to Matt Peoples on Flickr for making this image available.

 

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Estoy Aprendiendo Espanol Por Mi Mismo Con Heutagogy

One of my (too many) sabbatical projects is to practice a heutagogical approach to learning and re-learning Spanish – that is, an approach in which I am in total control of my learning experiences, including identifying what I already know and can do, clarifying why and what I want to learn, determining how to learn what I want to learn, tapping into learning resources appropriate to my desired learning outcomes, and assessing my own progress.

My very well-worn Spanish-English dictionary, which I acquired circa 1982 and which has stayed with me all of these years.

In the spirit of the heutagogical learner, I’ll also be reflecting on my self as a self-directed and self-determined learner (perhaps I should say assessing myself as a learner) in this context so that I can improve my learning processes and outcomes. I am my own curriculum development specialist, my own evaluator, my own faculty developer, my own librarian, and I am developing my own learning process. (Whew – That’s a lot to do! It’s not easy being a self-determined learner!)

This project fulfills two goals for me:

1) I really want to re-learn Spanish, a language which at one point in my life I’d learned fairly well (in part due to an immersion trip to Mexico in 9th grade and an excellent Spanish instructor I had in grad school);

2) I get to test – to apply – the learning theory I am interesting in learning about: heutagogy.

There is actually a third goal here as well, which is to be able to converse with my kid and his teachers, in Spanish. Mac is in a Spanish immersion school, and I see (and hear) his quick progress with the language. I’d like to know what he’s saying, I’d like to learn with him, and I’d like to be able to talk with his teachers in their language.

So, step one for me isn’t actually a self “prior learning assessment” — that will come soon. First, let me share the 2 free learning resources I’ve initially identified as supporting my learning:

LiveMocha

Google Translate (how the heck do you think I managed to come up with the title of this blog post?)

Last year, in an early attempt to do this project, I worked my way through several Spanish lessons on Mango (free at the time courtesy of my university’s library). That was a great start and I brushed off some of the rust. Now I am going to work through some LiveMocha lessons, get a sense of what I know and can do, and put together my very own individualized Spanish learning plan. I will likely turn to additional resources (including lunch dates with a friend whose Spanish skills are way better than mine).

So … here we go!

Por favor, me desean suerte!

Prior Learning + New Learning = Deepening Existing Knowledge

Donna Gentry, a Communications major, completed her Prior Learning Assessment Portfolio, earning 36 credits for college-level knowledge that she gained through her professional and personal experiences. She wrote for the following courses that focused on her major and greatly enhanced her professional work in teaching adults and designing corporate trainings:

  • CCM 320 Public Presentations
  • CCM 321 Small Group Communication
  • CCM 322 Interpersonal Communication
  • CCM 323 Effective Listening: From Comprehension to Critical Evaluation
  • CCM 324 Nonverbal Communication
  • CCM 328 The Communication of Affirmation
  • CCM 329 Healing Communication
  • CCM 336 Humor and Communication
  • COL 432 Leadership Communication
  • COL 426 Team Building: Managing Work Groups
  • CTD 440 Principles of Instructional Design
  • CTD 446 Helping Adults Learn

In Donna’s final reflection she wrote, in part:

I feel a great sense of pride every time I complete an essay.  When I reflect on my career my accomplishments and experiences I think to myself, “I really did a lot.  I really know a lot.”  And I learn something new about myself with each essay.  I am reminded to use good listening skills, I am reminded to make the conscience effort good interpersonal communication requires and the patience and self-awareness it takes to be a better communicator.  PLA reminds me of all these things and more.  My self-worth has never been so solid.

Donna talks about her PLA journey filled with benefits and tips for success here:

So! Much! More! Than Credit

I’ve been publicly prattling a lot about Prior Learning Assessment lately. For example:

Here

Here, and

Here.

But I fear that the important things about PLA are not getting enough attention. So let me say it loudly and in a bright font here:

PLA is about earning credit – and it is about so! much! more! than earning credit.

Many thanks to cogdogblog on Flickr for allowing this image to be used.

I could go on and on about the so! much! more!, but instead, let some of our students tell you. Below is a list of students who share their experiences with the PLA program at Marylhurst University. Some are videos, some are written testimonials, and all tell great stories about the ways in which PLA challenged them, benefited them, and changed their perspectives on their experiences and themselves!

That’s right: the process of doing PLA — the process of reflecting critically on their experiences, making new meaning from those experiences, articulating those experiences in new ways — changed them. In some cases, the process resulted in pretty significant transformative learning.

Thanks to all of our PLA students who are willing to reflect on their experiences, one more time.

Imagine This: Doing-By-Learning

Thanks to Mark Brannan on Flickr for making this image available.

Traditionally, higher education has been in place to prepare us to do. And it still seems to be in place for that purpose. First you learn; then you can do. First this; then that. And if you do that first, you will either regret not doing this first and come back to it, or you will continue to do that, but not be happy or find meaning in your life.

Higher ed seems to operate from this idea; its entire structure is focused on it:

  • Learn first; then do. This here piece of paper that says you learned makes you qualified to do, so go forth and do! (Oh – and you can stop learning now. That part is over, unless you want to keep learning, in which case you can go to grad school.)

Thankfully, engaging adult learners in higher education seems to have helped us think a little bit differently:

  • Ah – you went and did first. That’s cool! You’ve done all this stuff; now reflect on it and learn what it means (and by the way you can get credit for that through Prior Learning Assessment while you’re at it), and then learn some more. You think differently about it – about you – now? Great! Icing on the diploma cake! But now that you’ve done all that, and learned more, and now that you have our paper in hand that certifies your learning, you can go do, again. Because our piece of paper here says that you’re qualified to do more, or do different, in a better job for higher pay and a better life. (Oh – and if you want to keep learning, go to grad school. Doing is not for learning.)

I want to turn this upside down, make it do cartwheels, get all dizzy and mixed up. I have no doubt about the power of learning-to-do, or in learning-by-doing. But I have a hunch that there could be more power — more energy, more possibility, more long-term outcomes — in doing-by-learning.

Doing-by-learning is a phrase that I apparently blurted out in a recent meeting, according to a colleague, and I asked her, “Did I say that?” and she said I did, and then I thought, “Of course I did. That’s what I believe.” And since she pointed out to me that I said that, I’ve been thinking about what I meant.

Here’s what I think I meant:

  • Doing-by-learning means that deep, meaningful, significant learning is our partner — it’s not an outcome, but it is; it’s not a prerequisite, but it is. In doing-by-learning, learning doesn’t come after we do, and isn’t in place in order to do. We do/learn, learn/do: together, hand-in-hand.
  • Doing-by-learning means we engage in reflective practice all. the. time.
  • Doing-by-learning means we get to approach our work, our lives, with inquiry and curiosity and freedom to f*8k up. It means we can experiment, try, fail, try again differently.

WAIT! FAIL? (Gulp!) (You mean failure might be learning too? No way!)

  • Doing-by-learning means we can innovate! It means we can change our lives, our circumstances, our ideas.
  • It means we can change our minds.

WAIT! Change our minds? Doesn’t that make us a “flip-flopper?” Huh? You mean it makes us learners? How ’bout that?

  • It means that when we have a problem to solve, we can frame questions through which we can approach that problem. How should we work together in this situation? What do we need to know to move forward through the problem? What are the options? How will we know it worked? What if it doesn’t work? What will we try next? What new problems might we create in solving this one? Wait – are these even problems???
  • Doing-by-learning means there isn’t likely one correct answer to find, one set of “best practices,” or one right process.

Yah yah yah – maybe this idea isn’t new or original (it isn’t). But imagine this: What might higher education look like if we claimed it as an institution that facilitated doing-by-learning instead of learning to do, or doing and then learning, or even (in the case of internships and other experiential programs) learning-by-doing? That’s what I am going to imagine. I’ll keep you posted with what I come up with.

Life Is A Legitimate Classroom

Life is a legitimate classroom.

Earl’s Library of Universal Knowledge. Thanks to roberthuffstutter on Flikr for making this image available.

OH. MY. GOSH. THIS. IS. GOOD! Read this: A Letter From a Hybrid Student

Then think about these two points that Teo makes:

1) “…it takes courage to assert that one’s life is a legitimate classroom.”

2) “Our lives are our source material; our histories, a text worthy of exploring in community.”

Then consider that Prior Learning Assessment allows this assertion to gain ground and to have higher educational value – that is, that students can articulate their life-as-classroom learning and earn college credit for it.

We could say: “Good for you, you know a lot! You are learned! You are intelligent! You are knowledgeable!” Which is all true.  But the message that often comes with that (mostly from employers) is also, “…but you don’t have a degree.”

PLA addresses this issue – it helps students claim and earn credit for their knowledge (some say it legitimizes knowledge that adult learners come to college with, but I don’t believe that this knowledge is illegitimate prior to a credit or two being associated with it).

Just watch these student videos – hear their perspectives, their voices. Did they get credit for their experience? NOPE – for their learning!

Life is a legitimate classroom.

Here is a recent article that speaks to PLA, and a quote from me about how it can have quality and integrity:

College Credit Without College

Sleazy prior learning practices still exist, says Melanie Booth, dean of learning and assessment at Marylhurst University.

“There are some PLA programs out there that look like credit laundering,” she says. For it to hold water, “you’ve got to translate your experience to academic knowledge.”

Translate your experience to academic knowledge. Because Teo said it:
Life is a legitimate classroom.

The Power Of Peer Review

Jennifer Goff-Hawkins, a Business and Leadership major at Marylhurst University, recently earned 30 credits through Prior Learning Assessment. She submitted  PLA essays for topics that represented her learning from her personal and professional experiences:

  • Listening
  • Small Group Communication
  • Leadership Communication
  • Health Information Management
  • Conflict Management
  • Organizational Communication
  • Nonverbal Communication
  • Great Meetings
  • Strategic Listening for the Workplace

In her final PLA Reflection Essay, Jennifer shared that writing for PLA credits was a rigorous process that she found difficult, thought-provoking, and entirely rewarding.  She also commented,

The successful PLA student must be able to objectively reflect upon her life experiences, and must be able to commit to the Prior Learning Assessment process. Being a successful PLA student myself, I feel part of an elite group of uncommon individuals. I know that this is an experience that I will reflect upon for the rest of my life.

In this video Jennifer shares her experience in the PLA program – the challenges, the benefits, and also some great tips for current or future PLA participants.