Last week, a group of self-directed learners gathered at HUB Oakland to create learning plans. Some of us were full-time students, others were pursuing a law degree through the legal apprenticeship program while others still were attempting to reinvent their careers. But we shared a common feeling that our self-directed learning needed more structure.
After getting to know each other a little bit, we wrote broad learning goals on one side of an index card, and then on the back, listed activities we’d take on in the next few months that would move us towards that goal. Below each activity, we noted a relationship with an individual or community that would hold us accountable to what we said we’d do. After that, we talked for a little while about the hurdles that have kept us from making progress on our learning goals in the past, and shared strategies for overcoming those hurdles.
Afterwards, a number of the participants told me how useful it was to return to thinking about the year as a “school year.” Once we get out of school, time becomes something of a homogenous blob. We’re more likely to make progress on our learning goals when we break the year up into semester-sized chunks, starting each semester with a new learning plan and finishing with a reflection on how well we executed our plan. We thought it also might be useful to pursue different kinds of learning at different times of the year, doing more projects over “summer break” and focusing on our reading lists for a few weeks in the dead of winter. Without the structure of a school calender to aid us, we’re left to recover these natural rhythms ourselves.
At the end of the workshop, I invited participants to repeat these activities with their friends. Every community is, in some way or another, a learning community, but by being intentional about that learning and recovering practices to foreground our learning goals, we can support each other as we transform ourselves into the people we want to become. It’s much easier to help an existing community recover a set of practices that can make it a successful learning community than to start a new learning community from scratch. That said, we’re going to do our best to start an Open Masters cohort in the bay area early next year.