It's one of those questions that seems deceptively simple but is very hard to articulate because where do you begin? We learn so much stuff but much of it is incidental and goes unnoticed. It is perhaps easier to say that we have leaned significant things if we have engaged in entirely new experiences, like a new job, formed a significant new relationship, or travelled to a new place. It's also easier to answer if we can show that we can do things that we couldn't do before - like drive a car, play a new sport, or knit a scarf. Everyday learning is much harder to represent, although the annual Christmas Eve quiz put on by a friend, focusing on people and events of the past year, usually shows me what I haven't learned or remembered.
One of the great things about a learning blog is that it records things you at least thought were significant and meaningful at the time. So skimming through the posts I wrote through the year gives me an indication of some of the more significant experiences I've had and learning I gained, and where I put effort into trying to learn something new.
Family-related stuff - I put quite a lot of effort this year into researching and writing about my family's history aided by certain members of the family and the ancestry.co.uk portal and search engine. I discovered what I already knew that we are ordinary people coming from humble backgrounds but the information that I gleaned from census and other records created much new meaning for me. It was particularly rewarding to gain new insights into the role of my two grandfathers in the first world war and to the ancestral histories of my first wife's family. I have packaged what I have learnt into a PoD book published by LULU for the members of the family and I was able to share the first version of it with my father before he died in August. I think he valued the fact that I had recorded his life story and that of his family.
In researching and writing our family history I have felt a strong sense of honouring my family and ancestors - those who I have known and those who I have not known. In the case of my father I was glad to honour his life before he died in August, while sadly for my first wife and her parents the honouring is in their memory. In the context of family, 2014 like every year has had its challenges through which I have been exposed to new and difficult experiences. But we learn to deal with situations as they arise and that is the nature of everyday learning that we take for granted.
My own life - as part of this process of documenting our family I have begun to write my own life story. My father's death has brought me closer to my own mortality and I feel the need to record things I remember and try to make more sense of how I have become who I am. I realise that I'm the only one who can make sense of my life and the events in my life. I'm certainly the only one who knew how I felt at a particular moment. As well as appreciating what I have been able to do and accomplish it's also a chance to confront my regrets and what I did not do so well in life.
During the year my social enterprise, Lifewide Education, continued to be the main focus for my professional learning and educational practice. I was heavily involved in the production of four issues of Lifewide Magazine. The first corresponded with our first conference and our attempts to map the lifewide education and learning movement in universities and colleges. The second examined the use of social media, the third the idea of the social age and the fourth the idea of disruption and resilience. All provided me with opportunity to engage in research and enquiry and to write. I developed further and applied my thinking on learning ecologies. The idea of disruption and inflection points as major drivers for learning and development emerged and these ideas have given me the greatest pleasure and insights into learning and development this year.
I participated in the open on-line BYOD4L course facilitated by Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Becks and learnt about how such courses are organised and facilitated. Useful stuff as I'm going to be involved in supporting an open on-line course on creativity in the NY and this will give me a chance to facilitate and use the P2PU platform and tools.
I have certainly got better at using social media this year. Because of our Lifewide Education conference in March, I got more involved in using twitter, something I had never really got to grips with, and through a sustained effort through the year I have learnt how to use it in a more proactive way to share ideas and my blog posts and promote LWE. In fact I now service three different accounts and my followers are slowly growing.I have also realised the value and potential of social media in helping us develop our personal learning networks and I have benefited enormously from many people who have shared their ideas, images and the products of their thinking and writing. I have pro-actively engaged with other social media - Linkedin and academia.edu. Probably my use of social media has been one of the main ways I have developed my practice this year. I have also made good use of surveymonkey to undertake surveys to inform my presentations and have developed a model for contributing to institutional conferences that involves pre-conference on-line surveys and then using the data in my talks. Its more satisfying to present information that has been grown from participants' own beliefs, experiences and practices.
I had two great teaching experiences this year. The first at the University of Limerick where I put together very quickly, a professional development process for exploring the idea of creativity in the context of lifewide experiences. The participants were a delight to be with and I felt we had co-created the experience and all learnt a lot in the process. The second experience was my second visit to Beijing Normal University where I enjoyed giving a short course on the social age, lifewide education and creativity with postgraduate students. During the week I am looked after by Prof. Hong Chegwen and two students and I learn so much about China and many other things. Thanks to a 'walk in the wild mountains' with Professor Hong and the philosophising that accompanied us on our journey - I know have a deep respect for the idea of 'cherishing your life'.
I get half a dozen requests a year to talk on the theme of creativity in higher education and growing out of my continued interest has been a desire to consolidate and organise my work and ideas and make them accessible - so I created a website and branded it creative academic. Once constructed I began to see the possibility of establishing it as a social enterprise like, Lifewide Education, to promote creativity in higher education. So as the year ends this is the new project I am now embarking on which I'm sure will drive my learning in the coming year.
My main hobby is my band and this year we wrote and recorded songs for a CD to raise money to help a family whose 2 year old child needed expensive treatment in America for brain tumour. We discovered a purpose - raising money for children's cancer charities and it has helped motivate us as a band.
So in answer to the question ' what did I learn in 2014? - of necessity I learned a lot but most of what I have learned has gone unnoticed and unrecorded. Thanks to my blog I can celebrate some of the things I have learned and been able to appreciate more what I cherish in my life.
(1) What did you learn in 2014?