I just left IBM. I am feeling anxious and excited, familiar emotions when big changes happen in my life. It happened when I arrived alone in the US to go to university; it happened when I arrived at IBM Research to start my first real job. Now once again I am concerned and inspired by the unknown, the uncertainty, and the possibility to try out ideas that interest and matter to me.
One idea I will work on is Education for Grown Ups. There is a lot of research and experiments going on to help children and professionals learn but not much on adults who have had careers and want to learn about something that interests and matters to them. Adults at this time in their lives are curious and think about the world around them. They often learn more like children who are constantly asking questions like: “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why do Chinese people eat with chopsticks?”. As grown ups we might ask: “Why are vegetables so much cheaper in Chinatown, often 1/2 the price of vegetables in a grocery store a few blocks away?”
This has led me to the question: How can adults like myself who want to learn about a micro field*, something narrow and specific, in some depth, and who don’t want to sit in a classroom do this?
This idea of learning by starting with a question (a micro field) popped into my head after watching the documentary “Abacus, Small Enough to Jail“. What happened was very sad and absurd.
I had a strong desire to learn about NYC’s Chinatown from someone who has studied this immigrant population, maybe as part of their Masters or PhD thesis. Who also may have connections to the Chinatown community groups and could take me to meetings etc.
In other words for me it would be about understanding Chinatown immigrant lives in the context of how a young person would ask questions and how social sciences could put this population in a framework.
I hope to try out my Education for Grown Ups — Learning Micro Fields with an Intellectual Guide idea in some form at a school. Possibly at one that has been working on new education models. Two such schools I am currently on the board of: the New School in NYC (in case you don’t know this school, it is known for its radical thinking faculty and its Parsons School of Design. And the other is a start-up school, one of the Claremont Colleges called the KECK Graduate Institute (KGI) for Applied Life Sciences which continues to invent new graduate programs and also has a very interesting undergraduate program called the Minerva Schools at KGI https://www.minerva.kgi.edu/.
Let me know what you think of Grown Ups Learning Micro Fields. I want to hear your ideas. Are you learning or teaching a micro field? More generally, how are you learning as a grownup today — what is working, not working, and what is missing? My hope is to find ways for grownups to keep learning what really interests and matters to them.
* In an email to me Alfio Gliozzo, an IBM colleague, used the term Micro Field which beautifully captures my idea of a specific and narrow subject.
10 thoughts on “Education for Grown Ups — Learning Micro Fields with an Intellectual Guide”
Lilian, I admire your ambition! I had a good experience starting the Data Science program on Coursera delivered by Johns Hopkins University. Coursera, Udacity, and others provide free, online learning with certificates for a fee if one desires to get the credential. Most of my learning interests of late have been related to my job – learning about Blockchain, Quantum computing, Data Science, etc.. And for these, IBM and other vendors provide some decent education modules and learning paths. However, my passion is to learn more about art, music and other creative fields, which I hope to do in the future. I would love to read about what you learn from your study of China Town in NYC. Keep blogging.
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I will definitely keep notes on what I learn about China Town in NYC.
China Town has special meaning for me and has been a mystery that tugged at me. Growing up between 3 – 7 in New Zealand, my father took the family every weekend to visit a Chinese immigrant family who typically had a restaurant or grocery store. They all came from extremely poor areas in China, close to where my dad was born and grew up. I envied these families and wanted my dad to also open a restaurant so I could run the cash register and we could all work together. Instead he would go off to “the office” and do who knows what.
Thank you for your encouragement! Can you say a bit more about what made the Data Science program on Coursera delievered by JHU a good experience?
I think curiosity doesn’t diminish after we leave school and gain life experience. In fact mine has grown but is more focused on specific questions and areas coming from what has touched me.
Dear Lilian, you are such a thoughtful thinker! I love your idea of “micro” learning. I can think of so many areas where I’d like to know more, but it is a challenge. It would take more work to identify “how” to learn in these areas than it would to engage with the learning. For example, I would like to learn more about the huge numbers of Swedish folks (my ancestors) who emigrated to the U.S. Of course, there are books on the subject. But I’m not sure I can commit to a long non-fiction book without knowing the talent of the writer. What I would envision is a more interactive “Wikipedia” where I could search on the “Swedish Emigration to U.S.,” and the results would include short video interviews with the “elders,” as well as a variety of learning opportunities in this area. I’m not sure what would incent people to create these materials, but wouldn’t it be wonderful? I admire your discipline after retirement. Good for you!
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Thank you for your kind words. Your interactive wikipedia with video interviews is such a wonderful idea. I remember StoryCorp on NPR with the Library of Congress having interviews on events in life. Their search is not too good but may be a start.
I have always found your writing wonderful — it is because it is smart, direct, and fun-loving JoAnn’s voice! Wanting to be able to express myself better has incented me to take a course in writing. It will be exciting and I also feel unsure trying to “find words” to say what I am thinking and feeling.
In many ways my Corporate-voice had its own set of vocabulary, rules, and structure — it is easier to speak this way after many years of training.
This is a wonderful essay, Lilian, that leads me to think about what pulls us to learn new things, at all stages of life, and how we follow those “pulls” in meaningful, exhilarating ways. I really like how you have developed the term “micro-fields” in the context of your essay; it suggests a degree of specificity that can lead to the most interesting explorations.
I have been thinking a lot in terms of how learning experiences for adults might be “curated.” With a plethora of digital resources available online now, it can seem either (1) too easy to default to Google, which may not produce the most interesting and unique paths of inquiry; or (2) too overwhelming to navigate the seemingly infinite “hits” that show up online. Also, I think that people may yearn more than ever for tactile connections to history and information; experiences that cannot be had online (such as the handling of a letter from the archives, or a face-to-face conversation with someone).
I think that libraries have a tremendous opportunity to help people curate the resources that can help them to develop a new skill (i.e. a language, a tech skill) or an interest (i.e. race in America; the shifting geography of the Hawaiian islands) by connecting a range of resources as “cairns” or guide-marks along a unique path of inquiry. For example, a reference librarian could help someone investigating here Swedish ancestors to identify a useful genealogy online resource, a selection of vetted books (including a novel by Willa Cather, perhaps!), and perhaps some primary archival materials as well.
Thank you, Lilian, for presenting this concept that will keep me thinking!
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Jenny, thank you for your wonderful comment. I couldn’t agree with you more. Especially for questions/topics that matter and interest us we yearn in our Google-age to go beyond Googling for information or reading on-line articles.
We want to have a guide, ask questions, and have meaningful conversations. It may be learning individually or with a group. The guide could be a young person doing a Masters or PhD on the subject, or as you say reference and research librarians, or an expert, …
But we need to also have fun — may be something like a Grown Up Play Date with an Intellectual Guide.
Lilian, on “education for grown ups”, I’ve been working since 2016 with Susu Nousala, on a slow path towards higher education that is not bounded by university institutions, yet compatible with their direcitons.
Some of this was reflected in “Curriculum Making for Trito Learning” in October 2016 at http://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/curriculum-making-for-trito-learning/ . We haven’t put all of the connections into place, yet — these changes take a lot of time — but we’ve been relatively consistent about nudging our work that direction.
For 2018, I’ve been making a turn to try to travel less, and stay closer to home in Toronto. One of the slow-simmer projects that has been running since 2012 is Systems Thinking Ontario, at http://wiki.st-on.org/ . Toronto is a hub where many systems thinkers reside, and the local community can benefit if we make ourselves more accessible to them.
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What is your reaction to my thought in my Transition blog piece?