“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”
– George Whitman
The volunteer programs you participate in national or international frameworks are the projects that you design a learning and development environment for other target groups, but do not forget that the specific purpose of the program is to support the volunteers’ personal and social development. In this sense, while you add value to the learning processes of others, on the other hand you will be a learner who is on the journey of learning and development in these programs.
WHAT IS LEARNING?
Learning is the ability to create reactions and behaviours in response to certain situations and problems, and to change this with the new ones when it’s necessary. In other words, what we call learning is not just about storing certain information in our memory. We need to relate this information to our experience, make sense of it, and reflect it on our behaviour. Learning good and effective communication, for example, does not just mean knowing the steps of communication; but also to communicate well and effectively with people.
We always learn to be more competent. We learn to overcome difficulties, to adapt to change processes and to be more qualified individuals by solving our problems. There are three dimensions of being competent in one subject:
Knowledge: It’s the facts that obtained through research, observation or learning. At the same time, we can describe information as intellectual products that are the result of the work of human intelligence.
Skill: Depending on the person’s predisposition and learning, it is the ability to accomplish a job, to conclude a task properly as required.
Attitude: It is the evaluation of the behaviour of the individual towards other people and objects. In order to be competent in a subject, we should have developed ourselves in the three competency dimensions. For example; to be competent in using a wall drill;
Knowledge: You need to know the operating functions of the drill, such as screw driving and hammer functions, what the dowel works for, the size and type of nails.
Skill: You need to be able to carry the drill and most importantly, keep it with the right angle. You can apply sufficient pressure while the drill is working and you must be able to proceed at a fixed point during drilling.
Attitude: You must be patient first. If you are in a hasty and impatient attitude you can force the drill and even burn the engine. Moreover, you should be sensitive to the noise generated by the drill and to the disturbance among other people. So you should have a correct attitude about whether you should
not use it early in the morning or late at night.
Even when we leave one of these three dimensions out, we can’t say that this person is really competent about ”Effective Drill Usage”.
The ways of getting information on a subject are becoming more and more diverse in today’s world, and access to information is not as difficult as it used to be. 20 years ago, we can only find information in encyclopaedias, or the research we need to do in the libraries of universities, now we are a click away with search engines, academic portals and electronic libraries. So what do we need to develop skills and attitudes?
“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”
Experiential learning is a process in which we transform our experiences into learning. It is a learning theory which is very effective in developing skills and attitudes. Experiential learning consists of four stages that progress in the form of a loop:
EXPERIENCE: This step, which is the first stage, is the present time in which the individual has experience with all senses. We feel, observe, think, make decisions and do certain behaviours during our experience. And we see the results of these behaviours.
OBSERVATION: In the second stage, we analyse the experience we experience and the whole process as an external consideration. We establish meaning integrity between what we feel, our observations, our thoughts and actions, and their consequences.
THOUGHT: All these observation and analysis processes give some new inferences and new information. We associate this information with other existing information and reach learning outcomes.
PRACTICE: In a similar situation in the future, this time we develop a different attitude from what we have learned, we choose a different path, in short, this time we try new inferences that we have learned. This experiment naturally gives us a new experience, and the cycle actually continues throughout life without stopping.
COMPETENCE AND EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
Let’s remember the person who tries to be competent in using a drill, the skills and attitudes that this person needs. To develop relevant skills and attitudes, that person needs to be fully progressive in the experiential learning cycle.
The only way to develop skills is to try and repeat. However, it is necessary to think about each experiment, analyse the drill at the right angle and analyse the results. Even at this stage, gaining information on “the right angles for drill usage” will strengthen this process.
Experiential learning also offers an effective method for attitude development. Someone who is having a sleepless night because of other people's drill sounds may try to improve their sense of empathy about this subject.
VOLUNTEERING AND EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
Let's remember the experiential learning cycle. In the concrete experience section of the cycle, your volunteer experience will actually take place. Will this experience only be a good souvenir for you, or will you be able to carry this experience to the next steps of the cycle and turn it into a learning process?
In fact, this question has 2 answers;
1. To be aware that you are in the learning process.
2. To follow the steps of the cycle
Most of the time, we are not aware that we are in a learning process at our upper-cognitive level. In particular, while we have an active role in the learning process of others, we can actually forget that we are all learners. It is important to remember that a good trainer is also a good learner.
Author: Mustafa ERDOĞAN