Retain, Reflect, Redistribute–Re-visioning Adult Learning

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Retain, Reflect, Redistribute–Re-visioning Adult Learning

by Robert Dillon

The words “professional development” have grown a third head that is making it nearly impossible for people to lean into these moments with positive energy and enthusiasm. Words, when beautiful, generate mental models that propel us into action, but words surrounded in legacy baggage, thwart innovation and more. I propose that we have reached a critical moment with adult learning in schools, a moment where we must drop the words professional development and replace them with the a simple and elegant while complex and robust term, learning.

Reflection can come from having participants answer simple thinking routines like “I used to believe…now I believe,” having learners doodle, or even having them complete a blog post to solidify the thinking surrounding the ideas presented.
Learning is something all educators can lean into with a fresh passion and energy. Learning is seen as an opportunity to grow. Learning is foundational to our work as educators. The joy of learning is often what has brought most educators to enjoying their daily role in the classroom. What if we were purposeful about calling planned adult time together for growth “learning” as opposed to “professional development”. Is it possible that more of us would look forward to these moments? Is it possible that the shift in language could shift the structure, focus, and format of these moments within organizations to fit best practices in learning as opposed to just fitting the mental model of today’s mostly tired, mostly painful professional development sessions.

Would parents and community members better understand our breaks in the calendar if they were called days of adult learning instead of professional development? I know that much of this is just semantics, but words matter. Words can get stale, tired, and cause institutional numbness. The second phase of shifting how we think about adult learning goes beyond just words and focuses on adult learners retaining, reflecting, and redistributing ideas, resources, and concepts that grow out of learning opportunities. We are no longer in a shortage of learning moments for professional educators. Learning is happening non-stop in both synchronous and asynchronous ways, but so much of the learning is forgotten or trapped during the process.

With a focus on helping adult learners retain and reflect on information, the best ideas can transfer from training spaces to learning spaces. In order to support this, we have to give plenty of time for intentional conversation within the learning structure that allows our adult learners space to explain to others their current understanding and assimilate it into their working schema. Too often, the best learning experiences are left in the car on the way home as opposed to celebrated and amplified the next days at school because retention wasn’t an intentional focus.

During adult learning, we need to also build in time for reflection and redistribution. Reflection can come from having participants answer simple thinking routines like “I used to believe…now I believe,” having learners doodle, or even having them complete a blog post to solidify the thinking surrounding the ideas presented. The final piece and the one that has really suffered in most adult learning spaces is the opportunity to release trapped wisdom into the system.

The best ideas, resources, and materials can’t get trapped in one classroom or one school, and it is important that during adult learning, we set aside time to share out to teachers beyond the experience using social media tools as well as other means. Learning is amplified when it scales, and redistributing ideas in an intentional way supports this scaling of learning. Every gathering of learning professionals is a gold mine of ideas that can’t remain trapped if our hope of transforming learning for all kids is to become a reality.

There is always a need to think about fine tuning our experiences surrounding learning including the words that we use to describe it and the opportunities that are created to maximize it.

Dr. Robert Dillon serves the students and community of the Affton School District as Director of Technology and Innovation. You can learn with him on twitter @ideaguy42 and read and comment on his blog at:

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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