In this reflective journal, I will be discussing the following quote from Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice (2014): “21st Century competencies include deep understanding, flexibility and the capacity to make creative connections and a range of so-called ‘soft skills’ including good team-working” and how it applies to adult learning and my personal learning and working situations.
When I read this quote I think about my university experience and how it has applied to me in the working world. In my program we were given a wealth of information that generally involved lectures and reading textbooks. It was important to have a deep understanding of the basic sciences (chemistry, physics, and biology) so that we could apply those rules to how the human body works. Of course, when it comes to the human body, every system is a little bit different which required applying those scientific rules in different ways.
This understanding allowed me to be flexible with the knowledge I had gained as to apply it in different scenarios. This kind of thinking is common among university courses but in my opinion the ‘soft skills’ that I learned by working with other students, doing laboratory courses and interacting everyday with like-minded individuals were more valuable in the working world. Since I am not working in the field that I studied at university, teamwork is essential to gain the deep understanding of the work I am doing. Without proper training, discussions with co-workers, and the capacity to learn it would be near impossible to improve my working habits and the processes used to complete my job.
What caught my attention the most about this quote is how important soft-skills are in the workplace and in learning situations but how little they are actually taught or mentioned during classes, training, and on-boarding programs. I think that in order to be successful these soft skills need to be highlighted even if we are living in a knowledge society, “ [t]he quantity and quality of learning thus become central, with the accompanying concern that traditional educational approaches are insufficient” (Merriam & Bierema, p.4)
Teaching is a tough role since everyone learns in different fashions. Some take value from a lecture settings, some are visual learners, and a lot of people including myself require some sort of interaction in order to get the full understanding of what is being taught. I liked the basic breakdown from the text into “ formal, non-formal and informal [learning] settings” (Coombs, Prosser & Ahmed, 1973 via Merriam & Bierema p. 16) because in today’s day and age the formal learning settings have taken a backseat to things like using Google or the internet to find the answers we seek. There are so many ways we are learning everyday without even knowing it or being conscious to it.
Earlier, I wrote about the importance of soft skills especially team work in order to be successful as student or an employee but this is also true for teachers, professors, trainers, bosses and executives to fully understand how their students or employees learn, how they are feeling in their roles, and ultimately, what the teacher or employer can do to improve the experience for them. Being knowledgeable is only half the battle in my opinion, there has to be some passion involved to drive the want to work and learn.
Without soft skills it is near impossible to capture this kind of thinking, and without it, it is hard to gain the trust that pushes learning to the next level. I think about some of the best teachers I had growing up and every single one them was able to connect with their students on levels other than the classic classroom setting. When I think of my favourite boss (who happens to be my current boss), he isn’t my favourite because he is the smartest person in the organization or because he is the most knowledgeable, it is because he assists me to do my job by understanding who I am and how I do my work. For example, my boss understands that I have a passion for education, and through discussions about his past and what he did to get where he is today I have begun my journey. In fact this course is the first step. This aspect of our relationship has nothing to do with the work we are doing but is a consequence of being open and trusting each other. The soft skills used in the teaching and in the workplace are invaluable to get a deeper understanding of our roles and learning habits, but also help to increase capacity to learn. Having a teacher or employer who truly understands you does wonders for your desire to do more and learn efficiently.
I once worked for a database company that dealt with health interventions. These are not like the interventions you see on television but those that can impact a community and in an attempt to be sustainable and scalable for potential national usage. For example, if there is an obesity problem in a community, and intervention may be to start a healthy eating program or an exercise regime that the entire community can work together on. My boss was an intelligent woman who was also a professor at Simon Fraser. She spoke about what was most important for an intervention to be successful. In her eyes, there was a need to either increase the capacity of the community in the intervention or to decrease the complexity of what they needed to do or learn in order to implement the program successfully. It makes sense but when I read this quote I had a true “Eureka” moment.
In any situation, there are different types of people who are potentially trying to learn something new, or change their habits. They could read all the pamphlets provided, go to the programs, and do their very best to follow the guidelines but this doesn’t ensure success. Additionally, these people may not be able to apply the knowledge they were given or had learned to their everyday lives. This is where the educator is important but not necessarily in the traditional role. There is a need for the educator to connect with these people on a personal level, they need to empathize with their audience so that the facts being given are relevant to their experiences.
I think a lot of the time as educators it is difficult to step back and look at the situation from their audience’s perspective. The educator already has a deep understanding of everything being taught and it may be very easy for them to make connections to other situations. It is part of their role to ensure the audience is getting the most out of the information as possible because without that the audience will fail to incorporate what they have learned. Once again soft skills are instrumental in making these connections with the audience and also to help the audience make connections with their lives and how they apply in their environment.
For me as an adult educator, I need to ensure that I adjust my teaching style to reflect the needs of my audience. There are going to be many situations where my style isn’t going to be fit for who I am teaching. I will need to use soft skills to develop a rapport with those being taught which will help them to better understand what I want to get across. For example, if an audience is not responding to certain style, I can probe the audience by changing little things to see how they respond. My key takeaway from this quote is that the learning environment is always going to be a little different depending on the industry, the audience, and probably even by day. In order to succeed in this environment, the educator needs to adapt and having different styles at their disposal to ensure their audiences achieve their full potential.
Since I currently work in a training role in the technology industry I have experienced the need for soft skills. When I first started at the company, I gained a lot of knowledge on how to enter information into our platform. Since then I have become the subject matter expert with a deep understanding of how the platform works, how it can be applied, and the ability to be flexible with this knowledge to apply it to unique situations a client might have. When I moved into the training role, I needed to explain my understanding and pass along my knowledge to the client so that they could do the same things without my help. At the start, I found it challenging to explain these things in a manner that made sense to clients with varying technical know-how. For me, technology makes sense and I have no problem applying what I know to a technological environment but this was not the case for many of the client’s I was dealing with.
In order to deal with these differences, a needs assessment is done prior to training to gain insight into what type of learner would be attending my training sessions. My ability to apply conversational skills I have gained to these calls allows the client to become more comfortable with me and we can start to develop a trust so that they know I have their best interests in mind. These assessments are invaluable when it comes developing training plans since I can gear my style to best fit the capacity of the client. For the most part, I do not need to adjust my style mid-training. Even as educators we are always learning, and we need gain experience through teaching. I have been prepared with a particular style of teaching that I thought would be most effective only to have that fall apart during the training session. The ability to adapt it crucial, if we don’t adapt to the situation then the audience does not learn effectively (or not at all) and if the audience does not gain the knowledge we are trying to pass along then we are not doing our job as educators.
I will continue to adjust my style, and use past experience to reflect prior to new training sessions to ensure that my clients are getting the most out of my sessions.
Merriam, S.B., & Bierema, L.L. (2014). Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice.