Academic journal article Adult Learning

Creating New Directions with Story: Narrating Life Experience as Story in Community Adult Education Contexts

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Creating New Directions with Story: Narrating Life Experience as Story in Community Adult Education Contexts

Article excerpt

Narrating stories of life experience has helped us motivate adult learners with diverse goals. Working with culturally diverse learners in their community contexts, including adults who have been unable to advance their development and learning, we have observed them become more able to learn and succeed in their varied pursuits as they interpret the meaning of their lived experience through storytelling. This article advocates that adult educators become more intentional in drawing upon human capacity for storytelling as an integral teaching and learning strategy. Amid renewing social awareness and growing attention to more equitable learning circumstances, storytelling is a particularly relevant innate capacity. This overview, (a) introduces why and how to use storytelling as a strategy that may lead to life changes for learners and (b) discusses implications of using storytelling in adult education settings. It does not exhaust the potential for using narrative techniques; rather, it offers seeds of encouragement for more vital ways of thinking about how to unleash adult learners' potentials.

Throughout human history, storytelling has been a significant means of communication and influence in pre-literate and literate societies. Stories are teaching vehicles that transmit wisdom and understanding of indigenous cultures. Telling and listening to each other's stories of lived experience is a human tendency and capacity that we engage to discover and transmit knowledge, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes. Storytelling and listening form natural exchanges often used without intentionality or awareness of their power as co-creational processes that can motivate learners at any stage of development (Pfahl, 2003; Wiessner, 2001). As with any teaching and learning strategy, success in advancing co-creational narrative learning processes requires selective and intentional use in contexts focused on understanding how and why things have happened and identifying other options.

In this article we use "experience" to refer to our "conscious perception of reality through direct and indirect participation in events" (Pfahl, 2003, p. 507). When adults narrate experience, they express their experiences in spoken or written words that are separate from the self and can be examined critically and reflectively.

"Story" traditionally refers to "accounts of everyday occurrences that structure causally related events into a temporal plot with a beginning, a middle, and an end" (Pfahl, p. 509). A life story can culminate in learning and transforming when students improvise in "rewriting the self' (Freeman, 1993), seeing themselves in new ways that enable them to make different choices for rewriting their life scripts (Cohen & Piper, 2000). Lives change through self-learning and assessment.

"Narrative is a basic structure through which we make meaning of our lives" (Rossiter & Clark, 2007, p. 13). Usually, "narrative" refers to the nature of relational thinking processes, but it sometimes refers to a narration that recounts what is known. In the latter case, "narrative" may interchange with "story" (Pfahl, 2003).

Basic Human Capacity

Pervasiveness of storytelling across cultures provides evidence of a basic human capacity. Telling and retelling stories of experience objectify the experience and sometimes motivate learners, generate learners' commitment to new scripts, and lead to learning to act in different ways. Regardless of intended learning outcomes, whether they relate to economic self-sufficiency, more productive communities, or more meaningful human relationships within a community of learners, adult educators who use storytelling as an intentional learning strategy may help unlock learners' potential to refocus life. Becoming more self-aware of implications of past experience for the present, and for a changed future, involves whole person learning; that is, learning that involves "awareness and use of all the functions we have available for knowing, including our cognitive, affective, somatic, intuitive, and spiritual dimensions" (thINQ, 1994, p. …

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