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To Learn in A Group or By One's Self

Based on past learning experiences, you might ask yourself, "Do I learn best by myself, or do I learn better in a small group situation?" There are adults who can spend hours and days in a library in solitude, and learning takes place. On the other hand, some individuals require interaction with others to facilitate the learning process.

For example, several years ago, I was in the San Francisco area doing some training for a group of 15 insurance agents. This course was a three-day program covering various types of securities, such as mutual funds, stocks and bonds, as well as federal regulations governing the sale and distribution of these investment products. The purpose of the training was to prepare the insurance agents for a federal securities examination.

There was a minor problem: All 15 insurance agents were Chinese, and two-thirds of them spoke little or no English. Luckily, while in the U.S. Air Force (many years earlier), I had been trained as a Chinese linguist, so all was not lost. I was able to translate a few English terms into Chinese -- but, for the most part, I knew that I was reaching very few of them. However, much to my surprise, this group of highly motivated Chinese-Americans did very well over the three-day class. The class ran from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., after which this group went to dinner and returned to the office until approximately 11 at night. During these latenight sessions, they formed small groups with the three or four individuals who were bilingual and discussed and learned what topics and concepts had been presented during the day. Without this small group effort on their part, the entire three-day training program probably would have been a disaster.

Not only can working with peers facilitate the learning process, but often this activity serves as motivation for achieving the learning goal. In retrospect, this group of Chinese agents feared failing the federal securities exam, so they put in 15-hour days.

This chapter has been stressing positive learning experiences. Possibly just as much can be learned by reviewing your negative learning experiences. You might ask yourself why the experience did not succeed. Were you properly motivated? Was the learning experience relevant to your needs or situation? Did you have a negative attitude toward the learning activity?

In other words, we learn from past experiences -- good or bad. Then, as an adult learner, we build on these experiences for current and future learning experiences.