Bob has been working as a volunteer at TACSI for over twelve months on various projects in the Innovation Age. This is the second in a series of posts from Bob as he reflects on his work with us. 

Hoorah!…It’s September.

At last, Spring has arrived and once again we take time to celebrate Adult Learners’ Week.  It runs from 1–8 September and incorporates International Literacy Day.

As you may know, I am now at a stage in my life where I am no longer seeking full time paid employment.  Instead, I have become actively engaged in supporting a number of community and non-profit organisations here in Adelaide as a way to ‘pay forward’ my good fortune in celebrating a wonderful and rewarding professional life.  Notice I refrain from using the ‘retirement’ tag as all cost!  I’m now working for fun…

As an ex-teacher, lecturer, adult education manager and instructional designer, I remain passionate about the promotion of lifelong leaning opportunities for people around the globe. In simple terms, lifelong learning is the ‘ongoing voluntary and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge’. Sounds very grand doesn’t it.  But in reality, it’s all about adopting a personal philosophy of openness by actively seeking new knowledge and understanding through meaningful experiences, conversations and access to an expanding knowledge base.

Over the last couple of years, I have worked with a number of seniors in their homes as they embrace technology through learning how to effectively operate their personal tablets, smart phones and iPads.  In developing instructional strategies for this kind of work, I spent some time to re-acquaint myself with the work of Malcolm Knowles and his understanding of how adults learn.

Seniors, like all adults, are happiest when they are self-directed and autonomous learners.  However, in many cases, resilience at a time when sensory inputs and ‘wellness’ may be in decline for seniors, tend to make them even more fragile as continuing learners. Personal reflections on the ‘schooling process’ they endured tend to bubble to the surface if and when the current instructional process does not jive with them. Confidence in their current memory capacity also features as a regular issue in the process.  Finally, fear of failure often encourages senior learners to withdraw from learning opportunities accompanied by the cry – “I’m too old to learn”

“…School is learning things you don’t want to know, surrounded by people you wish you didn’t know, while working toward a future you don’t know will ever come…” – Dave Kellet

My most successful clients have been those where we both have been able to establish a real need to learn  – that is where content, connection and application are clearly emphasised and agreed upon. For example, learning to send and receive an email or conduct a Skype call with a family member interstate suddenly makes their personal device more important in their current stage of life. Similarly, using a maps app and the internet to research and revisit key places in their personal life journey have also marked breakthrough moments in our learning together.

The experience has reminded me again that there are probably as many ways to ‘teach’ as there are to learn. People do not all see the world in the same way and we all have very different preferences on how, when, where and how often we wish to learn. Most importantly, I am now always looking for evidence that we are both having FUN and our sessions are full of talk, laughter and good times!

At The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI), I have been lucky enough to be asked to join a new research team to co-design, test and produce Mindset for Life, a personal development toolkit for older people to build innovation and life skills to help them plan and design the next stage of their life.

In this work, TACSI is partnering with the City of Port Adelaide Enfield and the COTA SA.  The partners acknowledge that many older people may leave the workforce without much opportunity to plan ahead or identify the skills and knowledge they will need to create a vibrant, purposeful life without work as the backbone.  We believe there is incredible untapped potential in South Australia’s older population – untapped because the opportunities don’t yet exist, or society and our economy has not yet caught up with the fact that we live longer lives and seek fulfilling futures well beyond ‘retirement’ age.

The partnership has some exciting learning methods to test to explore whether participation in the program does in fact lead to older people building more exciting and purposeful futures for themselves.  For example, Learning Circles are a highly interactive, participatory structure for organising group learning.  The goal is to build, share, and express knowledge though a process of open dialogue and deep reflection around issues or problems with a focus on a shared outcome. While Learning Circles are a form of ‘community’ learning, our goal will be to unite people with diverse perspectives, experiences and backgrounds in contrast to collecting ‘like-minded’ participants.

Finally, we will be working to ensure that the Mindset for Life toolkit will cover core innovation skills (including building a curiosity mindset, observational and research skills, creativity and idea creation and analytical thinking) and core life-skills (including building a growth mindset, building resilience, critical thinking and confident communication).

It is our hope that these modules will equip older people to participate in multiple ways in contemporary society and create their own opportunities to generate change and pursue personal passions in later life.

So as we take time to celebrate and acknowledge Adult Learners’ Week in 2017  in South Australia, remember to try to find some time to socially connect with others to continue to learn and grow our personal knowledge as we celebrate the richness of our lives, going forward.

Bob Wilson

To find out more about Mindset for Life, please contact Erin Martin at erin.martin@tacsi.org.au or 0408 819 354