Personal Growth, Radical Learning, and Alternative Education

Are some learning experiences more influential to our personal growth than others? Why are more people seeking alternative learning programs?

These questions got me thinking about my educational background and the journey that ultimately led to my enrollment in an alternative learning program.

I have had a pretty diverse educational background, it was mostly standardized, but also very unconventional.

Right before entering fourth grade, my mom pulled me out of public school in order to home-school. She was a very dedicated stay at home mom, teacher, and coach (I was also highly involved in figure skating). The curriculum focused on writing, grammar, and critical thinking, which were required for most activities, and rather than testing, comprehension and problem-solving were used for evaluations. It was a very intellectually-liberating learning experience.

Then, when I was fourteen, my parents decided I should attend public high-school. The transition was difficult. Not only was the learning environment totally different, but so was the curriculum, pace, and teaching style. My classes kept moving forward, whether I understood the topic or not. And testing, as well as preparing for tests, become a regular event. I struggled with the concept that my opinions, thoughts, and ideas didn’t matter. I felt like the only creative outlet I had left was figure skating.

Sadly, my experience in community college wasn’t too much different from high-school. I took much of the same courses; they were just a little more liberal.

I transferred to UH and enjoyed business school. I was just shocked to learn that no matter what you “specialize” in Business School, your classes are 90% the same as all other business majors. But, that’s how it goes for undergrads.

When it was all said and done I didn’t feel very knowledgeable in Marketing, but that’s what my degree said, so that’s what I paid for, I guess. 

Two years after college graduation, countless hours of googling how to do things, and some on the job experience in Marketing, I decided to take a course with General Assembly. They’re an alternative education startup and their mission is to “transform thinkers into creators”, which really resonated with me.

The class I attended gave me the opportunity to really grasp the current Digital Marketing landscape, while acquiring actionable skills for my career. It was a great learning experience, which offered a good balance of structure and flexibility. 

Soon after realizing how diverse my educational background had become, I started to wonder which learning experiences from my past were most influential in my life. And looking back, I noticed that all the formal educational experiences where I made learning the goal were actually less impactful to my personal growth than a few stand-out, informal experiences. I learned the most when I was thrown into a situation and had to figure out what to do next, and when I didn’t have time to sit and wonder what I was going to get out of it in the end. Maybe it’s just my personality, or maybe it’s more common than I think, but when structure and rules are enforced in the learning process, it can really limit personal growth.

When I set out to learn something in a structured environment, I find myself trying to control or at least predict the outcome. It limits my self-awareness, my adaptability, and my creative thinking abilities because I’m approaching it as “training” (follow these steps and accomplish “x”) and letting the system do all the work for me.

Although I do believe there is a time and a place for this type of learning, more radical and impactful experiences are not this structured. They happen when you take responsibility for your own growth and create your own goals, even though you may not know exactly what to do or what’s going to happen in the end.

I really believe that the future of learning is alternative education. These offerings will become more and more popular as people strive to acquire skills that they didn’t learn in their institutionalized education. There is definitely a demand pulling more unconventional learning opportunities into the marketplace, and the more available they are, the cheaper they will become. So it’s exciting to think more people will be able to take advantage of this space.

So many people are ready for a shift in education. They are getting tired of the old way of doing things; they want a change. These people question the status quo, aren’t afraid to act, and take what Albert Einstein said to heart.  

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
— Albert Einstein

 They want more intellectual freedom, less top-down structure, and more connection. It is these individuals who will spearhead a new movement in education. Whether it begins in grade school, in the professional world, or both, I don’t know yet, but I can’t wait to see what happens.  

The HumanCurrent podcast is hosted by Angie Cross & Stacy Hale. Subscribe in iTunes or listen at Stay tuned for our interview Michele Battle-Fisher on policy and when navigating complex systems becomes a matter of life and death.