As a Healthcare Professional, we are encouraged to practise reflective learning; thinking more deeply about a critical incident to support or challenge how a situation we find ourselves in went well or if our response could have been better. I intend to use reflective learning to discuss how a very meaningful learning exercise I undertook was successful, using learning topics from this course.

I intend to describe a learning experience and then discuss how it can be applied to serve as an example of the following three topics:

  • transfer of ideas and concepts from one areato another
  • focused and diffuse modes of thinking
  • lifelong learning and broadening my passions

My story begins when I had been an Occupational Therapist for a few years and worked in a Neurological Rehabilitation unit. My main patients were adults who were trying to recover lost skills due to any number of misadventures that had befallen them. I worked with a very skilled team, but it could be difficult to convince patients to trust our assessment of their ability to shift weight through a leg with hemiparesis for example so that they would be able to step and walk. I was teaching physical skills but the patients who did best were those who got interested in learning about their learning.

climbingAt the same time, a friend invited me to try out a climbing wall and I embraced the opportunity to learn a new skill. What I didn’t realise at the time, was how powerfully the acquisition of that skill would transfer to other areas of my life, namely to my OT practice. It was a real shock to be on a rope, halfway up a wall at an indoor climbing centre and hear a climbing partner shout “okay, transfer your weight through your left leg so you can step up to that ledge with your right foot” and hear myself shout down “I can’t! I’ll fall!” This “I can’t, I’ll fall!” was what my patients told me when I asked them to try skills within their grasp.

Two things quickly became obvious to me, through transfer of ideas and concepts from one area of learning to another. The first was a lightbulb; “This is what my patients feel!”. We have heard in video lectures that the most powerful lessons are tied to the sensory memories we create, and the fact that I still remember looking down from up high, feeling the fan blowing cool air against my skin, hearing slight impatience with my refusal to progress, and feeling the tension in my arms as I clung on for dear life – and the fear in the pit of my stomach certainly backs this up.

I remember learning what it was like to feel how scary it is to trust others to see your way through a challenge. The second thing I knew was, if I was right every day, when I encouraged patients to achieve, then my climbing friends encouraging me from the bottom of the climb must also be right. I learned to trust my climbing partner and their assessment of a climbing problem, and I had to learn this over and over again. Trust was a whole new skill again when I had to lean out and trust that the hold my partner could see and I couldn’t, was really there. But I did learn, well enough that I could teach it to others and transfer it to being a crucial part of how I understood setting and achieving rehabilitation goals with my patients.

Climbing is actually a brilliant sport to discuss the interplay between focused and diffuse modes of thinking. Of course, when if you are working out a particularly hard climbing problem, all your focus is diverted to that. Sometimes trying to follow the route you want to take is frustrating. Like other problems in life, sometimes it’s best to let things become more diffuse so that your body can automatically do movements that your brain might not consciously choose. When you are just enjoying a climb, your mind can wander to earlier learning and try to make those connections that cannot be learned in focused mode. The connections that were made weren’t limited to learning how to climb and it also seemed especially easy to develop new insight when the topic might involve anatomical or functional knowledge. It seemed that earlier questioning about my range of motion to reach a hold might lead me to think about biomechanics or something related. Lastly, just as Dr. Sejnowski described with his running, my diffused focus might shift to make connections about other learning topics.

I dread to think that none of this learning would have occurred without embracing lifelong learning and broadening my passions. It has become my belief that if I am going to teach others how to meet physical challenges, I need to keep teaching myself the same lessons. In that spirit, I have embraced adult gymnastics, yoga and kickboxing. There is nothing like feeling new muscles working to take you back to an anatomy text so you can be precise about training muscles and their antagonists and not just by using the ‘trick movements’ that we all use to get things done. Every new activity I try teaches me something different about myself, something about learning and something about teaching. New skills keep me engaged in my life and also give me treats to strive for when I have completed those pomodoro tasks.

I will always teach physical skills, but lately, I have started to work in schools as well. Naturally, it was important to see what “going back to class” would teach me about learning how to learn. I first discovered free online classes through the Coursera platform in neurology and behavioural economics, and then moved onto ‘learning about learning’ to help me to discover and work towards correcting some of my learning errors and give me insight and empathy to help others learn.

My new academic passion is the work I am putting into an MSc with specialising in understanding sensory integration. Like my Coursera experience, I am discovering a fantastic supportive network of friends and mentors who have now involved me in a new way to share my learning, blogging to all of you.

I hope my reflections on learning have reflected or renewed your own enthusiasm for learning and continued professional development. Warm wishes to you all.

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