Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Report #5: A Reflection on Self-Directed Learning

An Interesting Question

In a recent team meeting, a fellow instructional designer asked the team to name a secret self-taught skill (his was throwing knives, another said juggling). Then he posed the question: where did you learn this? He also asked us to think about a skill we tried to learn, but couldn’t learn. Why couldn't you learn the skill? This kind of thinking - reflection on learning experiences outside of the classroom - inspired this post on my own paths of self-directed learning. What take-aways from my own experience will cross over into the realm of instructional design?

My Skill: Roller Derby

This is the team-based, amateur contact sport on roller skates that I play; I spend a lot of time dedicated to becoming the best skater I can be. Here is a quick list of what I’ve done to progress to what I think is an advanced level (3+ years, national level competition):
  • Attend at least 3 practices a week (2 hours in length)
  • Weight training 3 days a week
  • High Intensity Interval Training 2 days a week
  • Running Stairs
  • Tai Chi Daily (ok, I’ve been bad about this one lately...)
  • Research on Nutrition; implement changes to diet; special diet during tournament season
  • Attend 2 special training workshops (or bootcamps) in a year
  • Watch footage of self, team, opponents, or expert level teams/skaters: 2 hours monthly
  • Sports psychology reading/research
  • Podcast/reading derby articles: 1-3 hours a month
  • Participate in league discussion boards: 1 hour/week
  • Countless in-person, phone, and chat/text conversations with other skaters
  • Meetings: 1-5 hours a month
  • Bouts (that’s what we call games in roller derby)!
In sum, that's a lot of work (as well as motivation to keep putting so much time into something that doesn't earn me any money).


In all the hours I've invested in my sport, I've taken away some useful lessons about learning and motivation. Here is a list of take-aways:
  • I find joy in the activity itself (most of the time). It’s easier to be motivated that way.
  • When progress is trackable in small increments, I get the feeling I’m progressing and I want to learn more. I want to try harder. It’s addicting.
  • Feedback is essential to my progression.
  • Feedback is uncomfortable to give when I am a novice at a particular skill.
  • Feedback is easier (and more enjoyable) to give when I am closer to mastery.
  • Personal goal setting, with a larger goal and incremental goals to pave the way, is a faster way to mastery.
  • There is less fear when there is no such thing as failure. There is only falling, from which I can get up again and again. Eventually, I fall less, to the point where I typically only fall when I am pushing myself to a new level.
  • When there is no failure, it is still possible to label myself a failure. Don’t do that if I can. Keep trying, and there are people to help along the way.
  • There is inspiration everywhere, from skaters on Team USA to newly drafted rookies who try new things, fall, and get back up and do it again.

How Does this Relate to Instructional Design?

Finally, I'd like to map what I've learned in my derby life over to my professional life - to the world of instructional design, specifically for adult learners:
  • Feedback is important. Not only has feedback from others helped me track my progression, but my own ability to give feedback
    Beginner (in black) - only a few months skating...
    to others does the same thing as well.  I’d like to see more peer feedback. I’d like to see more students at mastery level helping the “rookies”. How do we achieve this, specifically in an online program of study?
  • Feeling a sense of progression is important. Seeing evidence of that progression is important.  I can watch video footage of my very first bout as a rookie and  then look at the most recent bout I skated. I see progress, and I feel proud, and I want to keep learning. I can look at one of thousands of photos available and critique my form (even in the 3+ years photo-  I need to get a little lower!) and see progression. I can look at my bout statistics and see progression.  I feel at ease giving feedback to others - that is progression! I think about this all the time when I’m doing design work. In what ways can we track progression, outside of grades?
  • Other people are important. Learning in a community has been an eye-opening experience. For example, one person may
    3+ years later...
    not get through to me when she is teaching me a skill, but someone else may be able to explain and demonstrate it in a way that works for me. How do we connect students to a community of learning and instruction? 
  • Falling (not failing) is important. I can always get back up and keep trying. This is a tough one-  especially with the imposed time constraints in a semester, credit-hour based system. What are some steps we can take to provide safer opportunities to fall?

Those are all questions I would like to explore further. Does my experience really map to higher education and the design of courses and programs of study? What can we do differently, and what are we already doing that is similar to successful self-directed learning? What can I do as a designer to improve the quality of the student experience? These are all broad questions, but it is a good place to start.