What is an Experiential Learner? It is never too late to discover

Have you ever been speechless or only able to speak in phrases rather than whole sentences?  Have you ever been without words that effectively express whatever you want to communicate or at a loss for words altogether?  This happens to me more than I would like to admit.  Words have their way of escaping me especially when I write.  Words can be powerful and can shift a mindset or open a person up to another perspective.  Unfortunately these options are not available when words get jumbled or disconnected in my thoughts and responses.  Words make up language for connection and relationship, but interpretation and assumption take over when a person’s ability to use words gets stunted or hampered.  Generally older people will attempt to excuse themselves when this happens to them or they will make fun of themselves in the moment.  But, this has happened to me throughout my whole life.  This impediment, as I like to call it, grew into an insecurity which stopped me from proceeding into trying many new opportunities.  Insecurities do this.  I let my insecurity define me as a personal characteristic that I accepted as everlasting.

Understanding can be the first step in conquering insecurities, but action is far more effective.  I do not encourage recklessness and rash impulsivity, yet a single experience can change us at a far deeper level than reading a book or watching a movie.  Often our insecurities learned in our twenties and thirties are continuously directive through our later stages of life.  Things that we stop doing or avoid or getaway from, do not just disappear instead they reappear.

For years… I remember thinking of myself permanently impaired.  Sometimes those thoughts would include “how come I am so stupid”.  One of the most helpful discoveries about myself happened when I was over the age of 50.  I discovered how I learn.  I am an Experiential Learner.  I have trouble learning or being trained through videos, Youtubes or following written instructions.  Because of the abundance of these resources, I can get by, but I would not consider myself knowledgeable in use of these platforms.

I learn best with companionship and mentorship.  When I am allowed to be tutored by someone who is knowledgeable and that person is willing to be singled out by my questions, descriptions and sometimes apparent nonsensical personal wonderment – I learn.  I found out this type of learning is not isolated and unique to just me.  Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, studied language and its impact on a person’s cognitive development.  Words and language play a central role in cognition.  Children actively construct their knowledge within their culture which allows them to develop communications relatively quickly because of the social nature of this process. 

There are two key concepts to Vygotsky’s learning theory.  Both hold true for me.  One is “Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)” and the second is called “Scaffolding”.  The zone (ZPD) is reflected in tasks that are just slightly too difficult for a person to master alone, but the tasks are suitable to be learned with the guidance and assistance of more skilled individuals.  This concept emphasizes the importance and strengths of mentoring and tutoring which allows for sharing of ideas, therefore all participants will benefit.  Scaffolding centers on changing the support over the course of the lesson in order to align with and guide the student at the student’s performance level.  Vygotsky’s concepts took into account that language and thoughts develop independently and then merge.

In my experience, my younger learning environment was seldom nurtured.  In my day, learning was more of an expectation rather than a process.  The education standards and process were set.  I was never privy to understanding how I was to meet the standards. The concept of learning was always a mystery and a constant barricade to any of my achievements.  My parents did not respect higher education which filtered into an inheritance that I interpreted as my disability.

How circumstances and trajectory of life can change when personal experience gets affirmed by understanding!  My door was opened by a short dialogue about my building frustration.  In that conversation, I expressed my circumstances that made me feel like my life had hit the point of… “is this all there is?”  It was an inspiring day when I discovered my experience had been studied resulting in a theory and process of overcoming these hindrances. It was like shades had been lifted from my eyes. 

I can say with confidence, delight and dignity – I am an Experiential Learner.  I can prepare a learning environment for my ability to succeed rather than dread and fret in doubt and worry

Most recently I am being challenged in my home.  My house has its own language.  Over the holidays, my house has expanded its vocabulary using gadgets that are strategically placed.  These gadgets are to create easier communications that replaces the yelling from one floor to another along with the option in case of an emergency to call for help.  The voice on the devices have a name that needs to be repeated before every conversation, but I can honestly say she does not always understand what I want.  Even in a silly way… I am using what I know about myself to accept my learning curve of speaking and directing my home network.  Lifelong learning continues at all ages when we are open to use learning as building blocks toward the future, instead of barriers to the future.

“Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.”  Anonymous