by Dale Schlundt
The world we live in today is busier and takes more of our attention than any of the previous generations would have ever imagined. Consider your daily responsibilities, then add the current technology to that mixture, and you are ultimately left with limited time for extracurricular activities. However, this should not deter us from extracurricular learning. Now many individuals think of learning and immediately an image of a classroom comes to mind. Not to mention the ever increasing costs of tuition, as well as the investment of time it takes to go through college or continuing education classes. Much to our benefit, this does not have to be the case.
The Written Word vs. Discussion
About half way through finishing my master's degree I began to realize something. This being that an overwhelming amount of my conceptualizations of the topics being discussed were not necessarily happening from my readings, but from the in class discussions afterwards. The readings simply gave me the terminology and a basis for which I was able to carry on meaningful conversations with my classmates. Now you may be asking yourself, "so what are you saying, I need to go find someone to talk to in order to learn?" Well, my answer is yes. Now I am not saying there are no other ways to learn. As a writer, I certainly support and promote the significance the written word has in our intellectual development. That being said, what might be a good question to ask is what enhances the written word? This is where discussion and debate catapult our understanding of any topic we are pursuing to a higher level.
"How does someone else's view affect my own understanding?"
The answer to this question is through guidance. What does that mean? Following the time we read material on any topic, we all form observations and conclusions that make sense to us as individuals. These could be based off our own past experiences perhaps. However, what we must ask ourselves is whether or not our conclusions are correct. Are they a logical answer, or at the very least, a reasonable comprehension of what was being read. Here is where dialogue comes into play. The advantage of carrying on a conversation with someone who has similar interests in a topic, is that it allows you to either affirm your own beliefs or perhaps see where they may be flawed. Notice that "flaw" doesn't necessarily mean it's entirely wrong, but possibly in need of an adjustment. The need to be assisted or guided by our peers is an inevitable circumstance. Despite this inevitability, as individuals we at times feel ashamed of this, but it is truly a learning opportunity. The path to higher learning is through discussion.
"I have a difficult time debating with strangers or acquaintances."
I am naturally a shy person to a degree, as I feel many people have those same feelings. I have no difficulty speaking with people, I enjoy it immensely. However, going back to my classes in the graduate program, in the beginning I preferred to listen, rather than get into a debate with a stranger. Debating with friends, family, or my wife was no problem. (Depending on the topic, of course). Yet someone to whom I have never even introduced myself, that was a different story. Regardless, it is noteworthy to remember that those individuals were having similar feelings as well, being that they were either too shy to speak, wanted to contribute to the discussion, or a combination of both. The latter seems to be the most probable. The factor to consider was that we were all there for the same reason, to learn from each other. Around my second semester what I soon realized to my own amazement, was not only were the discussions immensely enjoyable, but those "strangers" were the best individuals with whom to have a debate. This is due to one major fact; they brought entirely new and unfamiliar insight to the topic. Although, there is no doubt your family and friends will give you great ideas and intelligent input, there is a reason that you are close to them. That reason being your similarities or similar ways of thinking. This is not to say they will give you a biased, wrong, or unintelligent opinions. As people who love and care about you, I would suggest they would give you quite the contrary. At the risk of diminishing my argument, it is important to mention that close friends and family can offer extraordinarily valuable viewpoints as well. Yet, what individuals who are outside of your everyday realm offer is a brand new frame of mind, thought patterns, and most importantly, perspectiveâ¦â¦.Simply put, these "strangers" gave me the view points that significantly improved my own ideas.
Now how does this fit into adult learning on an everyday basis? This is where it becomes easy as adults, because we are given an infinite amount of opportunities to discuss topics with others throughout our daily rituals. Although, my everyday learning has been primarily structured within the context of an academic setting, it is not limited to that space. This is the magnificent aspect about learning; it does not have to be in a formal setting. Allow the world to be your classroom.
Dale Schlundt holds a Master's Degree in Adult Education with a concentration in American History from the University of Texas at San Antonio and is currently an Adjunct Professor for Palo Alto College.