What a moment! After years of reading, writing, classes, tests, projects, presentations, racing from work down to VCU, and late nights of homework… I am finally sitting down to compose my final reflective essay. In some ways, it has flown by, but in other ways it seems to be a long journey, for I feel I have grown and learned so much in the past few years. It has been a wonderful learning experience. I have learned so much about adult learning theory, instructional methods for adult learners, and HRD practices. However, even more significant is what I have learned about myself, my abilities, my likes and dislikes, my educational philosophy, working with others, helping others learn, and learning from others. Finally, it has helped to define my identity as an educator. In this essay, I will take a look back at my journey through the adult learning program and reflect on what I have learned. I have posted pages of reflections for all of my courses, so although I can’t attempt to comment on all of the significant moments from all of my courses, I will take this opportunity to look back on the entire learning journey through this program.
It only seems appropriate to start at the beginning. I remember the first time I found a description of this program online. After years of contemplating a return to graduate school, I finally felt that I had found a program that would be well-suited to my interests, skills, and career path. I remember going to VCU to meet with the program director and later attending an open house meeting. With excitement and nervousness, I felt that it was the right time to return to the academic environment. Although I was excited about the new experience, I was also nervous because the graduate experience would be far different from undergraduate. During my undergraduate years, I was living on a campus as a full-time student, with virtually no “adult” or “real-world” responsibilities yet. As a graduate student, I would be balancing an academic load while also maintaining a full-time job, owning a house, and juggling personal and financial responsibilities. I had no doubt it would be difficult, but I also felt that life would always be busy, and there would always be a million reasons not to do this. I was excited and motivated, so the timing seemed right. And thus, with a completed application packet, a tuition payment, and registration for a class, my journey began.
I vividly remember the afternoon I walked into the building to attend the first day of my first course in the program. It felt strange to be back in a classroom after so many years since my undergraduate program. Yet, at the same time, it felt oddly familiar. After being a student from pre-school through college, it didn’t take long to recapture the feeling of being a student. I sat there, wondering if I would be able to manage everything. Was I up to the challenge? How difficult would it be? I remember looking around the room at a sea of unfamiliar faces. Little did I know that many of these faces would be with me throughout most of my courses in the program, some of them sitting beside me in Capstone, and some sitting beside me on graduation day.
That thought brings me to one of the most memorable aspects of the program… the people. I love the fact that, in this program, we are all adult educators, but we all work in different roles in different industries. From healthcare to dentistry to pharmaceuticals, we are a diverse group. Yet, our common ground is our interest and role in educating adults. The fact that we all have such different backgrounds enriches the program experience so much. Had my classrooms been filled with a group of people who all had a similar position in a similar company to mine, I think the learning experience would have been very limited. I have loved listening to everyone’s stories, experiences, perspectives, and ideas over the years. I can honestly say I have learned something from everyone in the program, and I do wish to thank them all for their contribution to my learning experience.
Both professors and students have made this a very memorable learning experience. Although I am excited to graduate and am relieved that the long nights of homework are coming to a close, the end of the program is also bittersweet because I will truly miss the people. We have all spoken about staying in touch in the upcoming years, and I hope that we do. Since this is such a small program, we do get to know our classmates very well over the years, and have established relationships with one another. I still keep in touch with some of the past graduates and I hope to stay in touch with my fellow graduates and faculty in the upcoming years. I have been totally impressed with them both as teachers and a students. But, even more, I have been impressed with them as people. It takes great commitment to complete this program while managing work, family, finances, and other personal responsibilities. At times, when I felt my own friends and family didn’t understand what I was going through, I only had to look at the faces in the classroom next to me to regain my momentum. I have watched all of us walk into the classroom after a long day of work, only to invest hours into our studies…and then drive home to do more work, take care of friends and family, and try to get some sleep before waking up to do it all over again. I have watched classmates go through changes in their workplace, lost jobs, new jobs, family challenges, health challenges, and financial challenges. They have each inspired me to keep going, because I see the strength and determination to finish reflected in each of their faces. There are always a million reasons not to do something, and some people do make the choice to stop, but I have felt us all pushing each other to keep going, so we can enjoy the walk across the stage together.
I remember driving home after completing the last class session of my first course, and thinking, “1 down, 12 to go!” At the time, it seemed there was still so much in front of me. It was overwhelming to think about how many courses and how much work was still in between me and a Masters degree. Yet, somehow, here I am. Only two weeks to go. It was easy to get overwhelmed at times, but I tried to take it one day at a time, one assignment at a time, one chapter at a time, one class at a time. Each day, doing what needed to get done, and little by little the days went by, then weeks went by, then months, courses, semesters, and years. This program teaches you not only about adult learning, but also reminds you about the value of hard work. I have been very blessed to have a great support network of family, friends, and coworkers cheering me on. They all seem to be just as excited about my graduation as I am. I think it shows that your support network has been with you throughout the journey, so the end is an important milestone for them as well, because they have watched us work so hard to arrive at this point. I wish to thank everyone who has supported me, helped me, encouraged me, gave me a pat on the back, got excited about important milestones, and listened to me during this journey. Just as I appreciate my classmates and professors in the program, I appreciate those cheering from the sidelines.
Every course in this program has taught me many valuable things, and it is difficult to capture everything in this essay. Looking back, I can honestly say I remember a lot of important concepts from each course, and they are now all combining to form a comprehensive understanding of adult learning and education theories in general. I have kept all of my notes, projects, and papers from every course because I really believe that I will refer back to the information during the upcoming years. My first course was Adults with Learning Disabilities, and it opened my eyes up to the vast array of learning disabilities that some adults face. I feel I have a much better understanding of learning disabilities and am able to be sensitive to adults who work beside each of us in the workplace while struggling with a certain disability. I recently learned that a very talented coworker of mine has a learning disability, but you would never know it if you met her or saw the quality of her work. This course helped me to understand the different types of disabilities and the various ways we can attempt to help or accommodate those with disabilities.
I then moved on to the Adult Learner and Program Planning. This was an important semester for laying the foundation for the entire Adult Learning program. The Adult Learner introduced us to many important learning theories that we would refer back to during the rest of the program. Although a theory overview course is challenging, it is important to have this groundwork laid early in the program, so we are able to build on it during our remaining courses. The Program Planning course was very important because I do plan educational programs at my workplace, so it was a very rewarding experience to learn how to properly and thoroughly plan a program. I have used many of these guidelines over the years as I have planned programs. Though I may not be planning a large multi-day conference, even smaller programs require organizational, budgeting, instructional planning, evaluation, etc. in order to be implemented successfully. I am now able to see myself as a program planner, in addition to being an educator.
The next semester brought Instructional Strategies and Groups and Teams. I thoroughly enjoyed this semester because all of the information was so applicable to the work I do in my workplace. I learned about various ways to present information to my adult learners. Prior to this class, even though I tried to keep my programs entertaining, I think I still relied heavily on Powerpoint and lecturing. Since that course, I have made a concerted effort to vary the ways in which I present information to my learners. My coworkers have noticed this and several have told me that they appreciate the way I attempt to keep things interesting by addressing the information with different methods. The Groups and Teams course was immensely interesting because anyone who works in any type of workplace sees the dynamics of people working together in groups. This course made me realize that, although we all work in groups all of the time, most of us don’t think about how challenging it is to have a group work together and be effective, efficient, productive, and successful. Many groups are rather dysfunctional, yet acknowledging the challenges and dealing with them effectively is difficult and often avoided. I have gained great insight into the groups I work with and observe in my workplace.
Over the summer, I tackled research methods. While I understand the importance of this course for understanding the various components of educational research, I also know that research is not my passion. This course helped to remind me that my passion is working with adult learners directly. I greatly appreciate the people who invest time and effort in furthering our knowledge in the field of education, but I firmly know that my place is with the learners.
Entering the next semester, I experienced Adult Development and Consulting Skills. Adult Development was interesting and a welcome departure from the other adult learning courses. I think this course helped me to understand my learners better as people. I have a better understanding of the stages of development people experience throughout the lifespan. I work with a very diverse group of learners in my workplace, so this course helped me to better understand the differences between people of different ages, educational backgrounds, career backgrounds, and ethnicities. The Consulting Skills course was an interesting experience because it allowed me to experience what it would be like working as an external consultant with another corporation. I really enjoyed the consulting experience, although I’m not sure I ever see myself “hanging the sign” to become self-employed as a consultant. After this course, I am now able to view my role in my organization as not only an educator and a program planner, but also as an internal consultant. I have learned to market myself as a resource to different department managers. I also remember a very key concept from this course, which is that everything you do is an intervention. Sometimes, simply by asking the right questions, you change the way people view an issue, and can influence their future actions and decisions. I use that principle in my work today, by trying to ask questions that will help people gain a better understanding of the issue facing them, so they can make informed and thoughtful decisions.
The next spring, I tackled Change Strategies and the Capstone Seminar in Action Learning. Change strategies was very eye-opening for me because I have witnessed change efforts in different organizations I have worked with, some of which have been more successful than others. This course helped me to see the complexity of organizational change efforts and learn new strategies for implementing change in the workplace. The Capstone Seminar was definitely the most challenging course of the program. It required a coordinated effort between team members, demanded a lot of time spent at the client location, and involved a very time-consuming final report and presentation. Due to the challenging nature of that course, it was also tremendously rewarding. I felt that my team was able to give worthwhile, thoughtful recommendations to our client. It was very meaningful to work on a real problem for a real client, as opposed to a hypothetical situation.
The next summer I completed the HRD Overview course, which was very helpful for me because it allowed me to identify my position as a HR Development position. When people ask me to explain what I do, I always explain it by saying something about education and training. Prior to this course, I don’t think I ever would have thought to explain it as an HRD position, though it truly is. Finally, this last semester, I am completing Educational Evaluation and Organizational Learning. Educational Evaluation, like Research Methods, has confirmed that I do not want to pursue a career in this field, yet I have a new appreciation for the evaluation field. I think we all take for granted that educational programs have been evaluated and determined to be successful, but not all programs are evaluated, or at least not evaluated formally. This course has shown me the value of making an effort to evaluate my own programs to determine what can be improved, or if the program should even continue. Finally, Organizational Learning has given me great insight into the organization I work for, as I learn to examine the learning processes of the organization as well as the cultural evolution.
When I think about the times when I have been most or least engaged in the program, I think the answer is simply that I am most engaged when I am learning about something that I can apply immediately in the workplace. There are some topics that I understand are valuable, but may not be very applicable to my current position. Others motivate me to return to work the next day and try something new, reevaluate something. Prime examples are instructional strategies or program planning tips that I can use in my educational programs. Other examples are concepts such as change strategies or organizational culture that allow me to understand my workplace at a deeper level.
As this reflective essay comes to an end, I wonder how best to summarize how this program has changed me. I feel that it has helped me to understand myself better as a person and as an educator. When I say it has helped me understand myself better as a person, I am referring to the fact that it has been a powerful learning experience outside of the classroom, as well as within. I have had to sacrifice a lot to complete this program. I am one of the few people in this program paying completely out of pocket, without financial assistance. I also have had very little free time outside of full-time work and the graduate program. I am not complaining about these factors, but financial and personal sacrifice were a reality in making this happen. I have also endured great personal challenges during this program. I am very proud of myself for continuing with the program in spite of all of these challenges and difficulties. I have told many people that this degree almost means more than my Bachelors degree because I will look at this degree on my wall every day and remember how hard I had to work and how much I sacrificed to complete it. It was an important personal and professional goal, and I am immensely proud that I have achieved it with no outside help, other than moral support.
Finally, this program has truly help to strengthen my view of myself as an educator. I didn’t leave undergraduate education intending to go into Adult Learning. My first few jobs steered me into the Human Resources field, and then into staff training and education. Once in that type of position, I really felt that I had found a position that fit with my education, skills, knowledge, and interests. Finding this graduate program was perfect for me, because it offered me a way to gain the knowledge that I needed to develop my skills in this area. Most of what I knew prior to this program was learned on the job, and most of the time I had no one showing me how to do things. I just taught myself as I went, often through trial and error. This program finally taught me about the theories behind what I do, and taught me about the adult learners facing me in my training sessions. It taught me about new strategies I could use in presenting the information to my learners. I learned to better understand the dynamics of my workplace by understanding group dynamics, change strategies, and organizational culture.
Finally, it has helped me to view myself as an educator. I remember, as a little girl, thinking about becoming a teacher when I grew up. Yet, in college, the K-12 educational programs just didn’t fit with my interest. I pursued education and a career in the healthcare field, and I think it is interesting to see that it has brought me back to education, just from a different angle. In a way, the career I envisioned as a young girl has come true, just with a different set of faces in the classroom. After this program, I am finally able to see myself as an educator of adults, and refer to myself as a teacher in the workplace. I think education has always been a passion of mine, so I feel I am in the right place professionally and academically. I am so grateful to have found this program, and grateful for all of the people who contributed to making this a memorable learning experience. I look forward to many years of helping others learn, and learning from others. One of my favorite sayings is that you learn something new every day. I strongly believe in this, and continue to learn every day from all of life’s experiences. I am leaving this program understanding myself better as both an educator and a learner.