We’re still learning

Our remote team here at the Institute for Learning Innovation was supposed to be gathered in Detroit this weekend for one of our two annual in-person staff retreats – and like so many other events around the world, this too was canceled due to COVID-19.

We’ve taken it online and have been doing our best to create workarounds. We’re enjoying great discussions about the future of our work and are feeling grateful for the interesting projects we are working on now.

As seems to happen so often these days, our group conversation veered to the current public health crisis and found us reflecting on our new, adjusted daily lives. We discovered that where so many things seemed to be on pause at the moment, free-choice learning is alive and flourishing in each of our team member’s home environments.

One Senior Researcher talked about how she has discovered what has been around her all along. “I am rethinking my relationship with my home. We are discovering more about each other and what we mean to each other as neighbors. We are acknowledging each other in ways we have not before. I’m exploring my immediate environment – What is in my neighborhood? What nature exists around me? We are waking up to our immediate surroundings since we’ve been sheltering in place.“

Many talked about having – or taking – time to learn a new skill:

“I recently started eating gluten-free and have been surprised at how expensive gluten-free products are in the grocery store! I like to bake, but don’t often have the time available – particularly to bake things that have many stages or take a long time to put together. Happily, my husband bought me a bread maker and gluten-free bread cookbook for my birthday this year. I’ve been starting to experiment with different bread recipes and flour mixes. I usually make a recipe as directed first, and then try and figure out how to fix what I don’t like. I’m engaging in lots of trial and error and using recipes from different sources as different templates for me to experiment with. It’s been a slow, but delicious, learning process.”

Necessity being the mother invention, two staff members have learned new skills simply to keep life comfortable:

“This winter I have learned how to build a fire in a wood stove. I’ve learned it is a science with many variables: the quality of the wood – is it well seasoned, is it hard or softwood? How windy is it? Is it snowing? How much? If a foot or more, I need to stock up before the snow starts. If it has snowed for a few days, I need to give the firewood time to dry, so I had to organize three piles: the dried logs, the almost dry logs, and the wet ones. How many logs should I stuff into the stove before going to bed so the fire lasts until morning without the danger of the stove exploding? And finally, what is the best way to start a fire from embers?“

“My clothes dryer broke and going to the laundromat seemed like a bad idea given the circumstances. My husband and I consulted the manual for troubleshooting ideas, watched a few YouTube videos and took a leap of faith, and ordered some parts. When they arrived, we learned that we’d ordered the wrong kit. (Apparently part numbers are pretty important!) Once the correct parts arrived we worked together to disassemble, fix and reassemble our dryer and —it actually worked! What was more surprising was that we did this without frustration and felt pretty proud of ourselves when we were through! Before the Coronavirus became an issue for us, we would have never taken this on ourselves and would have called in an expert.”

Finally, we’ve been coming to new realizations about ourselves and the world around us. One team member realized the far-reaching role of the government in his/her daily life; another discovered new ways to connect to his children through virtual board games, finding himself doing it more often than previously; and, another realized that over her lifetime, a long-ago Cuban American student at college had profoundly influenced her cooking, particularly the seasoning of a pot of black beans made from scratch.

We’ve learned that we appreciate both solitude and socialization.

“In the last two months, I’ve learned to appreciate stillness. I realized I have attached my sense of self to how much I was on the move. On a Saturday, one social obligation was insufficient – I wanted to hike, meet friends for happy hour, and then go to a movie. During the workweek, I’d pack my day with meetings, navigate constant travel, and never fully unpack my suitcase. The pandemic has interrupted all of that. Rather than feeling stir-crazy as I expected, I’m reveling in it. My professional commitments have remained steady (even increased!) so my mind is happily occupied. But after work, I don’t feel the need to suddenly replace my pre-pandemic activities with new hobbies. Instead, I’m giving myself space to sit quietly, reflect, and process the challenging emotions we’re all experiencing.”

“Although I have always known I am an extrovert- I realize now just how much impact socialization has on my mental health. The serendipity of connecting with new people around ideas that would have otherwise not have been introduced to me is gone. This makes me think a lot about how to better plan for my eventual retirement – building in ways to continue to meet new people.”

We’ve learned a lot about ourselves in this time, and look forward to continuing our learning journey over the coming weeks with our many wonderful partners.

Wishing you all health, safety, and lifelong learning.

Institute for Learning Innovation

Posted May 5, 2020