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Learning during a pandemic


It's hard to believe that we are still in the midst of a global health crisis, where most everything feels out of our control. We've needed to change our behaviour significantly this past year, requiring a series of adjustments in our personal and professional lives and finding out what works best for us given this context. We are also spending significantly less time with friends and family; some of us of lost jobs; others are waiting for benefits from their local governments. There's no user manual we can consult with or guidelines to work from. How can we possible thrive, much less create the conditions to learn anything new, given these competing factors?

In the field of Adult Education, we speak about 'disorientating dilemmas.' You can think of these as being like a massive fork in the road, a turning point or a significantly dis-orientating experience that doesn't fit into our current view of how the world works. It triggers us to question, re-think the way we do things or why we do them. This can happen on an individual, community and societal level.

Disorienting dilemmas are commonly seen as an integral part of transformative learning. Jack Mezirow, rock star professor and god father of the transformative learning theory in adult ed, explains, a disorienting dilemma represents the initiation of a transformative learning experience usually denoting a life crisis that triggers a questioning of assumptions, resulting in transformed beliefs (Taylor, 2000). We give meaning to this experience when we have the opportunity to reflect on it. We might do this through dialogue with a friend, journalling or critically questioning our own assumptions and beliefs.

We feel this sense of disorientation when we experience major life events like losing a loved one, changing jobs, moving to a new country or getting married. Or even when we challenge ourselves to learn a new skill or while speaking with a colleague and we have a kind of 'ah-ha' moment of insight into our experience.

We can view the world wide Coronavirus epidemic as a kind of collective disorientation, where our lives are interrupted, we have many questions, the universe has seemingly 'pressed pause' and we are caused to look at ourselves in a potentially profound way. When will we have a time like or opportunity like this again?

This is not to negate the current suffering that many of us are experiencing, not to mention the thousands of doctors, nurses and hospital staff who are putting their lives on the line as they expose themselves to this virus, but what if we shifted our perspective? What if we forced ourselves to dig deeper to ask ourselves, "What is really going on here?' What learning can I experience in the midst of chaos and confusion?

Let's imagine our period of self-isolation is almost like being in an incubator. With the right conditions, care, and intention - we have the potential to use this time for good! If we view this from a learning perspective, we are setting ourselves up for being resilient and building our capacity for future challenges that we can overcome with even more rigour and perhaps enthusiasm.

So, how can we do this? Sit with yourself for 10 minutes today or this week sometimes, to journal and ask yourself these questions:

1. What do I want for myself during this time? After self isolating, if want to emerge better in my behaviour or attitude, what do I need to do to set myself up well?

2. What does success look like during self isolation for me (eg. Doing daily yoga or completing an online course, or creating your own website for a future business?)

3. What 3 things do I want accomplish to invest in both my 'present self' (eg. meditation, exercise, taking up a long lost hobby or connecting with friend) and 'future self'? (eg. learn a new skill?)

Let me know how you get on!