Final Program Reflection
Masters in Adult Learning – HRD Track
This program reflection will include a reflection on the capstone course. The course reflection was eliminated to provide flexibility during the very demanding capstone project. Rather than not reflect of the capstone experience, I’m choosing to integrate it into this reflection directly as I feel it was truly a capstone experience and in need of some critical reflection.
I’ll finish my M.Ed. as a 42 year old adult learner, after three years of evening classes, working full time and juggling all of life’s demands as all adult learners do when they return to school. This was the fourth master’s degree that I started. My first attempt was in a computer programming program and I quickly learned that the time spent behind a computer screen and alone, was not consistent with what I wanted out of life. My second attempt was in a Sport Management program and much to my dismay, many of my concerns about being a gay man in the field of sports proved true very quickly. After experiencing pervasive homophobia, sexism and bigotry, I decided I could not remain in that program and grow personally while trying to grow professionally. My third attempt ended before it started; however, I did spend 14 months planning, testing, applying and preparing for law school. After being rejected by 8 schools, I spend a few years getting over the rejection, reframing the experience and trying to understand what I really wanted for myself. In the meantime, my job had grown and I’d been given much more responsibility in my position. My interest in what I was already doing was blossoming as I was allowed to explore possibilities and grow the scope of my work. After hearing about the M.Ed in Adult Learning program from a colleague, I decided to take a closer look. I was intrigued by a philosophy of learning that centered on the learner and focused on reflective practice. In addition, the curriculum of the HRD track looked to be a perfect fit for my current and growing responsibilities in my job, for which my commitment had solidified.
From the first class to the last, my expectations were surpassed. Much like comfort one feels when they step into a room of familiar faces, from the first meeting of my first class, I knew I was in the right place. As we each talked and introduced ourselves in that first class meeting, I felt supported, encouraged and welcome into the environment and I realized just how important this was to my learning, a theme that I would soon learn is central to the learning experience for most adults. I could also see that the professional diversity and similarities to my own work, among the others, was going to be valuable to my experience. What I also soon began to realize through my new friendships, academic connections and connections in the program, was the importance of and desire I had for relationships in my life. As a self-proclaimed introvert and one who had always prided himself on being independent and self-sufficient, I came to realize that the very thing which I’d praised myself for, was counterproductive to that which I truly desired, being more connected with people. Almost everything I learned in the Adult Learning program also emphasized the importance and benefit of making and nurturing these connections with other people. From our classmates to our colleagues, true learning is only fostered through these relationships and connection. It was a continually enlightening experience to see and understand the silos I’d built in my professional life and the island I’d put myself on in my personal life. As I learned in the program, once I started to question these things, the intervention had begun and the change was unfolding. The importance of these relationships and learning to ‘bring down my walls’ through interaction and reflection, was the central most important theme throughout my learning experience in the program.
My evolution over the past three years while in this program was exponential compared to previous years. As a communicator, I learned to be patient, to listen and to hear what I was listening to. I learned to question, not only that which was important to me but to question that which would be important to the person who was speaking, not to get what I need but to help them find and figure out what they needed. In essence I learn to give through communication and not just take. In addition, I can to realize that through active listening and question, I could learn far more. As a learner, I evolved to discern, dissect and extract information and to then reflect on that information.
Of incredible importance to me was a change in self-perception I gained early on in the program. I never saw myself as a ‘learned’ individual. I did not go to private school. I was not a model student in high school and I certainly did not get a strong classic education. However, I had failed to recognize and appreciate the learning I did outside the formal classroom throughout my childhood and as a young adult. As I learned the many “faces of knowledge and learning”, I gained a new appreciation for the deep and breadth of my mechanical skills and abilities. I had always taken this tacit knowledge for granted and thought of it is common to all. By understanding this knowledge as valuable and unique, I came to value myself as a capable learner and to understand that I was and am an experiential and activity based learner. Through this understanding, I become a more confident and capable learner and I know how to best compliment and address my own learning style.
At my job, I have taken on an additional role as our staff development guru. My supervisor has come to depend on me to help look at issues within our division and develop best practices for addressing problems and facilitating change, a role I am now comfortable and confident in.
Stand Out Moments of Learning
Throughout the program there have been many ah-ha moments and time of exceptional learning. If I were to try to identify some of the areas of greatest learning, aside from the many aspects of personal growth that I’ve already talked about, I would start with talking about understanding organizational culture and change strategies. This was an area that I really sunk my teeth into. Part of this may have been the very hands-on approach we took to learning much of this material. Creating and holding a large group intervention in the form of an Appreciative Inquiry summit was a true stand out moment in learning for me. This was an exceptionally successful exercise. My team chose a practical and actionable topic and executed a fantastic, albeit brief, summit. I hope that for future students, they are encouraged to choose their subject matter or topic carefully as the learning from this project will be lasting and more meaningful for those vested in the process due to the nature of the topic.
My capstone experience proved to be a true final amalgamation of everything I learned throughout the Adult Learning program. As such, it was also served as a refresher of much of the information I’d learned over the past three years. It was a pleasure to work with a team of students who had been through Groups and Teams, Consulting Skills and all of the other core curriculum courses. It was like working with a well-oiled machine. Not only were we all well versed with the core curriculum and skills, we were all also experience with working with one another. Our learning curve was short as was our time. The long delay in IRB approval forced us into a very compressed project schedule but the team was unfazed. It was amazing how smoothly things went and how well everyone stepped in and out as needed.
I do question using a research project of this large scope for a semester long project. Don’t get me wrong, it was an incredible learning experience, not only in the process of action learning, but the secondary learning was huge. I learned a plethora of information and knowledge about healthcare policy, hospital policy, the roles of the many health care providers, the evils of health insurance policy and the trials and realities of living without insurance. However, I do still feel that we could not bring the action learning full circle due to the inability to implement some change strategies or intervention based on our research and then re-measure or evaluate the original problem or research question. That said, the overall capstone experience was outstanding.
Over the course of the entire program, if I was to identify a weak point in the learning process, I would talk about what I call the ‘glue’. That is to say, I feel as though the dots need to be explicitly connected throughout the program and in every class, which illustrate how everything continually ties together and how everything ties back to the goals of the degree and chosen track. Much of this is obvious and becomes much clearer later in the program, but early on in the program I think it would be helpful.
So, the obvious question I’m left with is… to Ph.D. or not to Ph.D. I think I need a year to think about it. I intend to talk to Dr. Carter and Dr. Muth about the Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs and about my goals for the future to see if there would be a goodness of fit for me in one of these programs. As all working adult students go through, this has been a true test of juggling competing demands, making sacrifices and persevering. Looking back I wonder if I was engaged enough at times; did I put my best foot forward at all times?, did I do bring all of myself to the learning experience?, did I properly reflect on all of my experiences and do my best to integrate that which I’ve learned?
I believe I did.