As I approach graduation from the Masters of Education, Adult Learning & Education program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I find myself in a moment of pause as I intentionally take time for reflection. What have I learned over the last two years in this program? What made sense and was anything surprising or unexpected? Are there things that I still want to learn or areas of adult education that I want to explore in a more fulsome way outside of my degree? Was there something missing from my experience that I think would have been beneficial to learn more about? All of these questions are worth exploring in the months leading up to graduation, especially as I think about how I would like to continue on my own personal journey of lifelong learning. More practically, however, I believe it is imperative that I take this time for reflection as a professional staff member at UBC, where I am responsible for supporting current undergraduate students with their own experiential and lifelong learning outside of the formal classroom setting. Through this period of reflection, I have determined several key lessons that I am taking away from this program and one critique that I hope to name and continue expanding upon as my journey of adult education continues post-graduation.
The most prominent lesson that I am taking away from this program occurred during my first class ever in September 2019, which was in EDST 503. This lesson pertains to the fact that learning is a lifelong process and occurs in much of our day-to-day lives as adults. One of the first readings that I completed in this program was Rubenson’s “Adult Education Overview” (2010) where they provide various definitions of adult education and learning, including the definition of lifelong learning provided by UNESCO (United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization). In addition to defining lifelong learning, Rubenson (2010) shares the three fundamental attributes of the term, which include:
- “It is lifelong and therefore concerns everything from cradle to grave;
- It is lifewide recognizing that learning occurs in many different settings; and
- It focuses on learning rather than limit itself to education” (Rubenson, 2010, p. 5).
Prior to considering the concept of lifelong learning, I believe I had a fairly limited mindset on what could be considered ‘education’. In reading Rubenson (2010), my eyes were opened to the fact that almost anything one does as an adult can contribute to their learning and overall development. This lesson was even more solidified when completing additional readings throughout the MEd program which highlighted learning opportunities in many different contexts, including participating in community organizations, organized sports, and engaging in movements toward social justice. While I hope to remember this lesson as I continue on my own journey of lifelong learning, I also recognize that it should be at the forefront of my mind when supporting student leaders at UBC in my staff role. When connecting with student leaders supporting UBC’s orientations programming, I hope to highlight the many ways that their daily activities, including volunteering, holding club executive positions, and even the conversations that they have with their peers, are all contributing to their own learning and development. These moments of learning can sometimes go unnoticed and holding space with student leaders to reflect on those experiences and the growth they have experienced is something that I am looking forward to continuing in the future.
This brings me to the second lesson that I am taking away from this program, which is in regards to how our experiences with social justice and global movements can contribute to the process of lifelong learning and the role that university institutions can play in educating students on the problems being faced by society today. Similar to the above lesson, which highlights the fact that learning is a lifelong and lifewide process, I had not previously considered all of the ways that individuals can learn and develop through participating in social movements or in moments of activism, or the responsibility that post-secondary institutions have when it comes to tackling society’s greatest challenges.
In terms of the forms of learning that can occur through participation in social movements, including attending rallies or protests, participating in community-based programs directed toward helping those in need, and even coordinating local cleanup crews within one’s neighbourhood, it is clear to me now that the opportunities for learning are endless. Scandrett (2012) discusses the different forms of learning that can evolve out of participation in a social movement. From “the structured educational processes which are sometimes employed within social movements… [and] the informal and incidental learning and knowledge generation within social movements through political practice, repertoires of contestation, and collective reflection” (Scandrett, 2012, p. 42). Hall (2006) also highlights the fact that social movement learning can include “learning by persons who are part of any social movement and… by persons outside of a social movement as a result of the actions taken or simply by the existence of social movements” (p. 6). In reading both Scandrett (2012) and Hall (2006), my eyes were opened to so many forms of learning that can take place through social movements, whether one is a key organizer or simply viewing the movement online as it develops and progresses. I see this lesson coming to life in my own work at UBC through the professional development opportunities that we create for student leaders which include conversations about anti-racism, supporting students in distress, responding to disclosures of sexual violence, active by standing, and so on. While these topics may not all be directly related to social movements specifically, they do create opportunities for current undergraduate students to delve into the material and to learn more about how they want to show up as leaders in the world. My hope is that by engaging student leaders in these conversations, they are able to gain additional insights into some of the wicked problems being faced by the world and the role that they can play in finding solutions, potentially leading them to become more involved with initiatives within the local or global community.
With this hope in mind, the third lesson that I am leaving this program with is the belief that universities themselves have a significant responsibility when it comes to educating students about the challenges being faced by society today and on how they can contribute toward finding potential solutions. Cordero et al. (2008) argue that “higher education… has an important role to play in educating students about climate change, and connecting it to the variety of social dimensions, including access to food, drinkable water, and sustainable energy” (Cordero et al., 2008, p. 870). They go on to state that “action-oriented learning designed around the ecological footprint can improve university students’ understanding of the connection between personal energy use and climate change” (Cordero, Todd, Abellera, 2008, p. 865). While this example focuses exclusively on the current environmental crisis, I believe the key takeaway can be applied to any form of education on social movements and/or challenges being faced by the global community.
This brings me to my primary critique of the MEd ALE program, which is with regards to the required courses. As an uninvited guest learning and working on the land of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples in both a student and staff capacity, it is my responsibility each day to consider the role that I have played, and continue to play, in a colonial system and how I can work toward reconciliation. While this is my individual duty and one that I take to heart, we are operating within a colonial system and all institutions and organizations have a responsibility to do the same. The Canadian education system is no exception, as it has been built as part of the colonial system with historical intentions of erasing Indigenous ways of knowing. For instance, Atleo (2009) states that “Canadian education begins where Aboriginal people are not: from a Euro-institutional perspective of pedagogy in the context of formal Western schooling” (Atleo, 2009, p. 454), which highlights the fact that much of the education being taught in this country is with a very specific, colonial perspective.
UBC is a world-renowned institution with a newly introduced Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) and encourages common practices directed toward reconciliation, such as providing land acknowledgements at events and gatherings. While these are certainly steps in the right direction, I think the university as an institution should be doing more and individual departments and programs can also take action in how they design and offer their programs. One way that the MEd in Adult Learning Education (ALE) graduate program could take further steps toward reconciliation is in reconsidering what courses are required in order to graduate. Currently, the three required courses of this program are EDST 503 (Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Adult Learning and Education), EDST 514 (Adult Education Program Planning Theory), and EDST 518 (Theory and Research on Adult Learning), in addition to one research methods course (ex. EDUC 500). These required courses focus quite a bit on colonial ways of knowing and learning, with readings centered on Indigenous theories being included by the choice of each individual instructor. Notwithstanding, I argue that this is not enough. If the institution wants to continue taking strides toward real and ongoing reconciliation with local communities that are impacted daily by our histories of colonial violence, I believe it should be required for students to learn more about Indigenous ways of knowing and how they can inform, enrich and expand our approach to a lifelong and lifewide education. One course that I completed during my time in the ALE program, EDST 546 (Indigenous Epistemology and Methodology), focused on Indigenous ways of knowing, and was taught by Professor Maggie Kovach. I learned the most in this course as it was entirely new material that I had not ever been exposed to in all of my years of education, including the importance of building strong relationships with communities as a starting place for conducting research, and various forms of Indigenous methodologies and frameworks, such as Indigenous Storywork (ISW). This methodology, originally developed by Archibald (2019), emphasizes the importance of intergenerational storytelling as a form of resistance and asks researchers to “pay serious attention to how stories can be used in research and education” (Archibald & Parent, p. 4, 2019). I believe that there are many ways that Indigenous ways of knowing could be included as a core requirement for the MEd ALE program, and including Indigenous methodologies like ISW as one of the research methods taught in required courses could be one way of doing so.
It is such a privilege to be able to further my experiences with formal education through the MEd ALE program at UBC and one that I am truly grateful for. Not only because I have learned so much along the way and connected with so many fantastic folks from around the world, but also because I am wrapping up my time with a keen awareness that the learning will not stop once I cross the stage at graduation. My journey of lifelong learning will continue through informal conversations with peers and colleagues, engaging in important discussions pertaining to some of our society’s greatest challenges, and in all of the moments in between. I am looking forward to continuing my own journey with adult education, expanding my learning edges and embracing other ways of knowing and teaching and hope to do so by taking part in forms of education that I haven’t yet done, including becoming engaged with a community organization and bringing some of my lessons learned into conversations with friends and loved ones. I may be preparing to complete my Masters at UBC, but I believe that I have only just begun this new personal chapter of adult learning and education and am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
Archibald, J., Parent, A. (2019). Hands back, hands forward for indigenous storywork as methodology. In S. Windchief, & T. San Pedro (Eds.), Routledge, 3-20.
Atleo, M. (2009). Understanding aboriginal learning ideology: through storywork with elders.
Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 55(5), 453-467.
Cordero, E. C., Todd, A. M., & Abellera, D. (2008). Climate change education and the ecological
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Hall, B. (2006). Review of the state of the field in adult learning: Social movement learning Canadian Council on Learning.
Rubenson, Kjell. 2010. “Adult Education Overview” in Penelope Peterson, Eva Baker, Barry
McGaw, eds., International Encyclopedia of Education. Volume 1, pp. 1-11. Oxford: Elsevier.
Scandrett, E. 2012. “Social Learning in Environmental Justice Struggles – Political Ecology of
Knowledge.” In Learning and Education for a Better World: The Role of Social Movements. Vol. 10, International Issues In Adult Education). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
University of British Columbia (2020). Indigenous Strategic Plan. 22 March 2022. Retrieved from
Villacañas de Castro, L. S. (2015). Critical pedagogy and marx, vygotsky, and freire : Phenomenal
forms and educational action research Palgrave Macmillan.
Sam Robinson (she/her) is currently preparing to graduate from UBC’s Masters of Education, Adult Learning & Education in May 2022. In addition to attending UBC Vancouver as a student, she is grateful to be a UBC staff member working alongside all of the wonderful folks responsible for planning first-year orientations!