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Adults often learn for specific reasons, and the ultimate reason is often to better deal with reality. But learning for adults usually involves a degree of re-learning. As such the process might be difficult as it forces a re-organization of ideas previously held as correct or even sacred. When we create an experience of this kind in class the learning might be quite stressful, because it’s personal! People might get mad or frustrated: the temptation to avoid the work or blame the facilitator suddenly becomes very tempting…

Yet, if your past history on a subject is one of failures (that is: you tried a solution that didn’t totally work) and if you can confess that you get an emotional response only mentioning it; then the learning you might need is better known as ADAPTIVE LEARNING. This type of learning is directly opposed to technical learning, which has the familiar school-house goal of gaining previously unknown knowledge about a subject. Unlike technical learning, adaptive learning:

  • Is rational and emotional at the same time, because it is as much about UN-learning (giving up, letting go of that which we hold sacred, like rules and norms and values) as it is about learning (taking in facts or concepts)
  • Is unlikely to happen simply reading a book or listening to a lecture, as it requires a certain amount of interactivity with others
  • Engenders natural reactions that are always extreme: either fight or flight, ignore or hunker down
  • Has applications that are often outside the box, over your current understanding of what’s true, and as such requires the courage and vulnerability to learn without a safety because there is no user’s manual for the uncharted territory it invite you on.

With adaptive learning we dare to deal with those moments when we reach the edge of our comfort zone, the cusp of breaking through to that which brings a new understanding…and if we decide to learn and to take responsibility for that learning, that’s showing up as people that dare to learn. This is critical to exercise “leadership in the moment.” The “learner” shows up for each of us when:

  • We don’t give up all we know but we do hold it lightly.
  • We are willing to bend our stances, our well-defined positions, into the curiosity of courageous collaborative inquiry
  • We become students of our own behavior and take on the challenge to encounter the powerful experience of…ourselves, the most important experience from where all other experiences flow.

This showing up is not a list of our thoughts about ourselves, or a list of possible explanations of why we are the way we are. Instead, it is an invitation to be aware and to be intentional about the way we show up for ourselves and for others.

Ultimately Adaptive Learning requires us to reflect on the norms in our values and our roles in those structures that have become so important to maintaining our current ways of being, but likely it won’t serve for what we were called on to become tomorrow. So it’s learning about ourselves for the purpose of changing ourselves.

What would suddenly become possible for yourself and for your team with this kind of learning?