Jennings (2013) stated in his lecture on how adults learn that in 1975, 80% of the assets of S&P 500 organizations were tangible assets (equipment, buildings, property). By 2009, this number shrank to 20%, meaning that 80% of an organization’s assets were intangible (human capital, goodwill). He emphasized ongoing learning in organizations was imperative and went as far as to say, “If the rate of learning in an organization is greater than the external change plus the internal change, the result is success. If it’s the other way around, the result is failure.” In order for organizations to learn, grow and change, the human capital that works for these companies must also do so.
Rubensen, Desjardins, and Yoon (2007), in a study published by Statistics Canada said that “a large proportion of Canadians have come to embrace the emergence of the knowledge intensive economy and are ready to upgrade their skills in order to improve and/or maintain their prospects in the labour market.” The study also noted that it was becoming increasingly rare for Canadians to participate in “organized learning activities primarily for personal reasons”. While the word “embrace” implies a willing compliance, this same statement also acknowledges that one must continue to participate in learning activities in order to maintain one’s marketability. Lifelong learning is no longer a luxury, it is an expectation and for those who did not do well in the education arena the first time, the prospect of diving back into that world can be terrifying.
What does this mean for us as educators? This trend translates into more adult learners in our classrooms who are there out of necessity, some of whom have in the past avoided formal learning environments. While there are many reasons one might shy away from heading back to the classroom, the focus of my study has been on fear and anxiety. The impact of fear on learning is profound. Perry (2006) talks about the process an individual goes through when frightened and the further along they are in what he calls the “arousal continuum”, the more difficult it is for a person to learn new content or even retrieve existing information. He says, “…in essence, fear destroys the capacity to learn.”
I intend to address this increase in fearful students in my classroom by educating myself on some of the causes and impacts of fear on learning, by learning to recognize some of the signs exhibited by students who are struggling with fear and then developing some strategies to assist those individuals to feel safe enough to learn.