When I stand looking at my life today on Feb 1, 2016 (a balmy 62-degree day in Boston!) and attempt to look ahead, it is very hard to predict what the future will hold. Sure, I have aspirations and desires - we all do! - yet very few of these tangible dreams are actually in my hands to control. Yet when I stand today looking back at my life that has passed thus far, I can easily narrate a compelling story that makes it seem like everything was thoughtfully planned to the very last detail. Of course, that wasn’t the case in the least! I suspect that most individuals can relate to both vantage points from his/her own individual stories. Yet in trying to better understand my own journey, one central theme continues to appears - my love for learning.
It’s easy to look back and see how much of life now makes sense, especially with my work behind-the-scenes in various organizations. I think it was while I was in junior high school that my sister and I became the unofficial assistants / librarians for our hometown community summertime band, which led to serving in the same capacity for our high school band. I could continue to trace the lines between Eastman, Houston, the League, Atlanta, NEC, Harvard, Asia travels, etc. …. but the idea that I could learn something new while contributing in some capacity has fueled my desire to wake up every day.
In my work with students at NEC, I often see very similar thought processes and realizations among students, just from his/her own individualized view. It’s incredibly fun to help nudge this discovery within others, and especially rewarding to stay connected with alumni who share stories of continued growth, exploration and development. I see students and alumni alike continually reflecting on his/her development, questioning where to turn next for learning opportunities, and exploring the next challenges to undertake. From a philosophical lens, this type of developmental attitude could be understood by Dr Carol Dweck’s growth mindset:
“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort. They’re wrong. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work - brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (source: http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/)
Understanding that a growth mindset stems from dedication, where does this inspiration to grow come from? Curiosity is often internally motivated from the start - but I would argue that continued development within a growth mindset is supported through a community of learners. In the most traditional sense, one would imagine a community of learners within an educational setting, such as a studio or classroom. Yet why only here? Take another form of learning as a comparative educational example - MOOCs, or massive online open courses. Since their start in 2012, there haa been a steady stream of news chatter surrounding this learning method. There’s this article, arguing about who is really benefitting from MOOCs and why; or this article, which is yet another attempt for traditional higher education institutions to recognize the value of self-directed learning; and this article published today, which showcases the real life impacts a MOOC education is having on citizens worldwide. Additionally, MOOCs still have their own community of learners. There’s this research study that I conducted on how MOOC instructors foster learning communities within online platforms. Then there’s this network (which I’m enthusiastically a part of!), created by Laurie Pickard, that was convened to support, encourage, and serve as a virtual cohort while its members progress towards individualized learning outcomes through self-directed MOOC curricula. Yet why stop at physical or virtual classrooms? This article is a great reminder that learning communities can take shape in any type of environment.
The older I get, I realize it's a understatement to say that my love of learning is insatiable. Throughout this journey, I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by many others who share a similar passion for study and research. While none of us can realistically know what the future will hold, I hope that we can all share in the exploration that learning together will provide. Whether it’s with a thought-partner over tea, weekend retreats with confidants, reading groups among friends, or physical / virtual classrooms, I fundamentally believe the pursuit of education provides the platform to increasing our capacity for meaningful work.