So, does this make me a “visual learner”?
When people talk about learning styles, they often refer to people who prefer to learn from visual information (i.e., drawings, photographs, diagrams, and illustrations) and people who prefer to learn from verbal information (i.e., spoken words, written stories, and text-based instructions). Hence the suggestion of two learning styles: “visualizer” and “verbalizer”. These two styles have received a lot of attention from academic researchers, parenting journals, and Facebook quizzes, but they are only two among dozens of learning styles have been described over the years (e.g., Myers-Briggs, Kolb’s Learning Styles, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, etc.). It seems to give people reassurance when they believe they know how they learn best. Parents are also drawn to the idea that if their children are taught in their preferred learning style, they will do better in school and go on to live more successful lives. However, the science suggests that it is not this simple (1).
Educational psychologists have documented that people do indeed prefer visual or verbal information and to some degree these preferences are related to their cognitive ability with visual or verbal information (2). Scientists determine someone’s preference by giving them a quiz that asks questions like: “when you read science lab manual, do you prefer to look at the diagrams or read the text?” Once they know a person’s preferred style, they can validate that preference by offering them the choice of multiple types of information (i.e. diagrammatic or text-based help on a quiz) and determining if their choices match their preference (1).
Once researchers demonstrate that people reliably prefer one type of information over another, they need to figure out if people learn better in an environment that emphasizes the type of information that they prefer (3). This distinction – switching from identifying the information I prefer to the information that helps me learn – is what separates a learning preference from a learning style. Researchers call this the “meshing hypothesis” and is the most common way to test for the existence of learning styles (4).
Tests of the meshing hypothesis have come up empty-handed. Students do not score better on quizzes after they have been taught in their preferred style (5, 6). In one study, the researchers found that all learners performed slightly better on a quiz about lightning formation when they were presented with visual information, regardless of their learning preference. It seems that students can adapt to accommodate any type of information presentation.
While there is not much scientific support for the meshing hypothesis, there is support for the idea that the teaching method should match the content being taught (7). For example, how effective would it be to teach:
The idea of learning styles is very compelling because it speaks to our human desire to understand ourselves and be understood. However, it is important to understand the difference between preferring visual information and learning more effectively from visual information because if you believe too strongly that you need visual information to learn, you could miss out on a lot of exciting ideas that are best described in only in words!
References & Resources
Is your field-based education program time and resource limited? If so, you might find that risk management planning keeps slipping to the bottom of your to do list. I recently surveyed university faculty in ecology, geology, and geography about risk management training and protocols at their institution and 60% thought these systems were inadequate to manage the risks they face when teaching in the field. I also spoke to several directors of not-for-profit field-based education programs and about half of them had concerns with their own risk management systems. Both faculty and program directors cited a lack of time and money for risk management planning. Given time and resource limitations, it might make sense to streamline your risk management system and start by collecting the low-hanging fruit.
The concept of risk management is simple: avoid incidents in the field by managing course activities well. If there happens to be a minor incident in the field, instructors should be prepared to handle it – and have the option to call for outside resources if they can’t. If the worst happens and there is a major incident, such as a threat to life or limb, systems should be in place that allow field staff to readily evacuate the injured person.
In order to accomplish these three simple goals, you need an emergency response system and well-trained field staff. Emergency response planning can be a daunting task, but these five elements provide an important foundation for your program.
The Natural History Institute at Prescott College recently asked the question: what are the barriers to college-level field courses? In order the answer this question they convened naturalists, university administrators, and strategic thinkers who could identify trouble spots. The list contained the usual suspects lack of funding, waning interest of students who have grown up addicted to technology, ever increasing faculty teaching loads, and the ever-present threat of a lawsuit.
When I surveyed university faculty (n=49), I learned that more than 60% believed that the training, policies, and protocols at their institutions were inadequate to manage the risks they face on field courses. There are no shortcuts to a better risk management system, but there are resources to help you along the way. For example, there are online trainings, webinars, and conferences dedicated to managing risk for outdoor and adventure education programs, which typically take more risks than the academic classes that the faculty I surveyed teach.
The Natural History Institute and Educate Wild! are committed to increasing the number of field opportunities available to kids, college students, university faculty, and everyone in between. Towards this end, I recently collaborated with Tom Fleischner, Saul Weisberg, and Steve Pace to revise and enhance the Prescott College Faculty Field Manual into Saying YES Environmental Field Studies. This open-access document shares the policies and protocols that are typically included in a faculty field manual for academic field courses. While the document is geared towards higher education, you will find that it can be easily modified to suit a wide range of field programs. Of course Educate Wild! would be happy to help you do that – the first half hour consultation is always free.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you when you needed a job, you were visited by the career fairy? This fairy sprite would fly into your bedroom window in the middle of the night, quietly whisper your “calling” into your ear, and then sprinkle you with fairy dust that magically paid you to do the work that makes you happy. That would be awesome!
Instead only about 30% of workers in the USA are happy with their jobs, and a much smaller percentage – maybe 10% – are highly engaged at work and love what they do. David Isay, the founder of StoryCorps and editor of the book Callings: The purpose and passion of work, has listened to thousands of personal interviews and believes that meaningful work exists at the intersection of three things: feeling appreciated, making people’s lives better, and doing something you are good at. Some people, like Isay who recorded his first interview at age 21, find their calling early in life but others find it later in life, like the accountant who found his passion for slicing lox after retirement.
Isay takes issue with the phrase “finding your calling” because it implies a passive process in which you fall into your dream job. Just a magical visit from the career fairy. Instead, Isay believes that once you stumble upon something that makes you happy, you have to fight like hell to make it your life’s work. Some people slog through years of a dissatisfying career because they can’t afford to leave the salary, benefits, or aren’t able to take time to realize their passions.
Other people know what they are called to do, but can’t see a path forward. Maybe pursuing meaningful work requires taking a pay cut, going back to school, or disappointing your family, friends and co-workers when you leave your current position. Outdoor educators and conservation professionals are lucky because most of us love what we do. However, our calling often pays rewards in laughter and sunsets rather than salaries and benefits, so some of us struggle to make ends meet.
I developed the Career Mapping process to help conservation professionals and outdoor educators articulate their calling and draw a path to meaningful work. I’m offering a five-week online Career Mapping workshop this spring and would like to invite you to participate in the first week (Know Yourself) for free. Just reply to this email and I will put you on the invite list.
I may not be the career fairy, but I know how to fight like hell to help people realize their passions.
Share in the comments below: When did you realize what you wanted to do with your life? And how are you fighting to make it happen?
Do you daydream about future adventures, vacations, and expeditions?
Have you amassed such a gigantic pile of inspiring trip reports, guidebooks, maps, and itineraries that you realistically won’t be able to get to them all in this lifetime? Yeah. Me too.
When you plan an expedition, you typically have a destination and a goal. Say you’re going sport climbing on limestone cliffs over the sparkling, turquoise ocean in Thailand. Identifying this goal allows you to pack appropriate gear, bring the right climbing partners, and make sure that you have the climbing and international travel skills to pull off an enjoyable adventure. Researching climbing routes and Thai culture can also help get you excited about the trip.
A 2010 study in the UK suggested that “many people spend more time planning their next holiday than they do planning their careers.” The average full-time employee in the USA spends approximately 3.8% of their work year on vacation (not counting weekends). Many of us are lucky to have more than two weeks off per year, but it typically isn’t paid vacation.
If you daydream about your adventures, why don’t you daydream about your career?
One of the problems with professional daydreaming (unless you are an adventure photographer) is that Nat Geo doesn’t feature amazing photographs of our careers and Climbing Magazine doesn’t write job reports for epic careers. It is hard to amass a gigantic pile of inspiring job descriptions, study plans, and career paths. Information about individual jobs, specific employers, and people’s job satisfaction just isn’t that easy to come by, so many people skip the planning process and fly to Thailand with ALL of their climbing gear and hope for the best.
As this crazy year rolls to a close, I’d like to offer parts of the Career Mapping workshop* that I’ve been facilitating with my students and clients that jump starts the career brainstorming process. Here is a short list of questions that I use in the workshop to get people thinking about their career aspirations:
* “I would definitely emphasize how thought-provoking, influential (life and career wise) and deeply moving this workshop is.” – 2016 AEE Workshop Participant
I presented my first webinar this week.
I talked about risk management for the Association for Experiential Education. I based my presentation on the online training that I developed last year (RM101), which is essentially my summary of a framework regularly presented by risk management industry GIANTS at the Wilderness Risk Management Conference. I have given a lot of thought to the way I describe this framework and how it can be applied to outdoor education programs, but I’m relatively new to the risk management community. Because this was my first webinar and some of the GIANTS were listening in, I was nervous.
Based on a few measures of success, I think my webinar went pretty well: participants engaged in polls, they asked thoughtful questions, and they stayed with me until the end.
I also felt appreciated and respected when several of the GIANTS went out of their way to give me feedback right after the webinar. The folks who reached out to me have clearly given very difficult feedback in situations with far more at stake than my webinar, such as talking with instructors who made mistakes that led to injuries or death.
I want to share my experience with you so you can learn what the communication from these feedback masters had in common:
In addition, they drew on their experience as risk management GIANTS to educate me about what I needed to learn rather than scolding me for not knowing better. The result is that I feel like my webinar was appreciated and I am being welcomed into the risk management community. I realize that I have a lot to learn about incident databases, industry standards, and the legal underpinnings of managing risk, but I also believe that I also have a lot to offer in terms of the way we talk and think about risks on field programs. I also know that the industry GIANTS have my back – and yours – because they are committed to creating a supportive risk management community that deeply values learning from mistakes
My only regret with the webinar? That didn’t ask the giants for feedback sooner.
When I started working for Colorado Outward Bound my biggest worry was that one of my students would get hurt on a backpacking trip. I lay awake at night imagining nightmare scenarios: rock fall, lightning, stream crossings, careless students, sprained ankles, broken femurs, helicopter evacuations. I worried constantly between the time I was hired and the day I arrived for training.
I felt like a little kid worrying about unseen monsters under my bed. I didn’t know what they looked like or when they would attack or what they would do, but I knew that dangerous, scary monsters were there – and they were coming to get my students in the Colorado wilderness.
Looking back, my fears were completely normal because I did not yet have a framework to define and manage risk. The monsters I imagined were big and scary and – worst of all – unknown.
Then I learned to identify specific hazards. Once I learned the hazards, I could assess the risks. Once I understood risks, my co-instructors and I could manage them. Risks that can be defined and managed are not nearly as scary as the imaginary monster risks under your bed.
It is worth developing risk management systems to improve your program and calm your mind – and this is an excellent time of year to do just that because risk management learning opportunities abound:
I can say from experience that risk management monsters are scariest when you ignore them during the day and worry about them at night. Shine some light on your monsters this month.
What are you afraid of? Share your risk management monsters in the comments below this post for a chance to win FREE enrollment in RM101* ($95 value).
* If you’re already enrolled in the course, think of what a great holiday gift it would be for your boss. I’ll draw the winner on Tuesday, November 29th- the day right before the world’s greatest risk management webinar trilogy.
I asked people at the Association for Experiential Education conference a question: how do you find meaningful work – make a thoughtful plan or let it magically unfold?
(Full disclosure: as an incentive to answer the question, I held a drawing and gave away prizes. If you keep reading, you will see that I am giving away more prizes at the end of this post.)
Nearly everyone answered my question with a question: how do I find meaningful work or how should I find it?
How do you prefer to find it? I replied.
Seventy percent of the people I surveyed said that they would prefer to let their careers magically unfold. Seventy percent!
The message that we get from society is that successful people have a plan. Successful people know from a very young age what they want to do when they grow up. They use the knowledge of their perfect-match dream career to motivate them to get good grades in high school, use those grades to get into a good college, and land a satisfying, high-paying job as soon as they graduate. I think society is perpetuating a myth AND I think it is freaking people out.
I recently interviewed more than a dozen successful professionals in the fields of experiential education and conservation science to learn about their career paths. Not a single one of the people I interviewed said that they were aiming for this career from a young age. Several of them mentioned an aha moment when they knew what they wanted to do, but that moment was typically sometime in their twenties and more of a vague idea than a concrete plan. A few of the people I talked to had several different aha moments on several different career paths.
So, should you make a thoughtful plan or let your career magically unfold? You should probably do a little bit of both. Regardless of your path, you should take the time to study the profession once you have your “a ha” moment and you know what you want to do with your life. You owe it to yourself to do some research for two reasons. First, you’ll know what you are getting yourself into. Second, you will gain a leg up on the competition for your dream job because you’ll probably know more than they do. Do your homework by asking: who is working in jobs that appeal to you and how did they get there? What do they like and dislike about their job? Could you follow their path to a similar career? My previous post has suggestions for personal professional development (specifically see ideas see #4, #5, and #6).
What if you haven’t had your aha moment yet? I have a few ideas for that too. I developed a career mapping workshop that facilitates the career brainstorming, visioning, and professional research process. You can see an overview video here and the handout here. You will also be able to sign up for the online version of the workshop in December at www.educatewild.com.
Now I ask you, engaged reader, how do you find meaningful work – make a thoughtful plan or let it magically unfold? And when has that worked or not worked for you?
As a thank you for commenting on this post, I will send an Educate Wild! Outdoor Educator’s Tiny Bag of Tricks to one randomly selected person who comments on this post by noon PST on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 (Micah, this is your chance!).
The case for personal professional development
Teaching in the field can be so time-consuming (and energy consuming) that practitioners forget to take time for themselves. You might have a daily yoga practice and get out regularly to run, but what are you doing for your professional self? How are you paving the path to your next career move? How have you made yourself indispensable in your current position – or how are you building your skills to shift your career path?
These questions can feel overwhelming if you are already working 12-hour days, looking at an email inbox with 136 unanswered emails, and feeling guilty about not revising your incident response plan. How could you possibly take on one more thing? I argue: how could you not?
Professional development sometimes feels like something that you do for your employer – attending the state-mandated food handler training, keeping your Wilderness First Responder certification current, clicking through the slides for the online driver training – but I’m talking about enriching your professional skills, taking time to connect with people who are passionate about outdoor programs, and dreaming about your future.
Here are seven ideas to keep your skills fresh, your professional network growing, and your next move on the horizon:
Dr. Angie Moline is the founder of Educate Wild! and an adjunct faculty member in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University.
The 2016 Association for Experiential Education Conference is right around the corner (October 27-30 in Minneapolis, Minnesota). I put together this 2-minute inspirational video to help you get ready for the event. Enjoy!
Learn more about the conference here.
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