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Potential to Purpose and Lifewide Learning

Gifted Education and Support

Potential is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.” It can be common to correlate potential to an overall goal of success; however, how one defines success varies from person to person. One way to broaden our understanding of success may be to refocus the emphasis on the word “potential” to a framework of identifying purpose in our learning. In the SENGinar, “Navigating Career Success: The Lifewide Learning Experiences of Successful Gifted Adults in Early Adulthood,” Dr. Joslyn Johnson introduces the concept of lifewide learning and identifying your own purpose. A few main takeaways to lifewide learning and helping your student find purpose in their education include:

Recognizing the Different Types of Learning One will Have Throughout Their Life.

In the gifted population, we know finding the right educational environment that fits your students’ needs is no easy quest! However, Dr. Johnson explains how it can be important to keep in mind that formal learning (K-12) is really only a small fraction where learning occurs. Please see below to learn more about non-formal and informal learning opportunities.

Helping Your Student Develop A Greater Sense of Self by Understanding Their Giftedness. One approach that many families have found useful is helping their student learn more about their unique learning profile. One resource to check out is the Gifted Identity Project. It includes a workbook that explains how there is no one right way to see and experience the world, as we all see and experience life differently.

Developing Intellectual Humility. One must be comfortable to admit what they don’t know to then learn more. Effort and mistakes are a part of the learning process—something that some bright kids don’t recognize as readily because of how easy things often come to them. Sharing a difficult time when you preserved can be beneficial in demonstrating that we are all faced with challenges, but it’s important to remain resilient!

Perspectives of Others. Mentorships are a fantastic way for students to excel intellectually and personally. Research concluded that establishing mentor relationships, regardless of the type of mentorship, can be pivotal in a student’s learning experiences. You may refer to our Mentoring Guidebook as a helpful start to this endeavor.

We recognize that every student discovers their unique purpose throughout the course of their learning experiences. It is often these experiences that set you and your path apart from others.

Often when we think about learning, we think about the lifelong learning process, which includes a person’s foundation of knowledge gained over time. In most educational settings, depth is thought of as a basic understanding of the concept (who, what, where, when, and why). For most profoundly gifted students, their curiosity leads them to explore concepts in a greater depth. A different dimension of learning is often an overlooked yet crucial aspect of the learning process called lifewide learning. Lifewide learning is about exploring the breadth of concepts, rather than the fundamental depth taught in a traditional school setting.

Lifewide learning can be broken down into three types of experiences, formal, non-formal, and informal.

Formal learning includes the structured experiences a student has. Learning that takes place in the classroom is the most common example of a formal learning experience. The discussion, content, work, and level of interaction are all things a teacher has designed and structured in a particular way to meet norms and/or objectives. In formal learning experiences, a top-down approach is used for learning.

Non-formal learning is semi-structured, in that there is often a common goal shared between those involved, but students are able to achieve personal and collective goals creatively. Informal learning offers more flexibility and can be adaptive based on a student’s interests or needs. For instance, a theater production, as well as organized sports, are examples of non-formal learning.

Informal learning are the incidental or “ah-ha” experiences a student has as a byproduct of another learning experience. These are not structured experiences, nor are they planned. Informal learning looks different for every student, as they are often self-directed experiences. It is through informal experience when students learn from their mistakes. Some examples of informal learning include coaching, mentoring, volunteering, and traveling.

Where can you find non-formal and informal learning experiences? This will be dependent on your student’s interests. However, a great place to start is by leveraging your community resources: local colleges, libraries, museums/parks, small businesses. Community oriented events and programs can be the perfect place to collaborate and network with others who share a common interest.

Another way to discover lifewide learning experiences is to branch out and explore your interest in a new way. One way to do this is to veer away from the setting where you would typically learn more about your interests. For instance, if your student has an interest in science, you and your family might participate in Educational Travel Programs, where you and your family can learn, discover, and adventure through historical destinations.

Every student has a different learning experience, but it’s through those unique experiences where meaningful and lifewide learning happens.


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