How to Be Alone: An Exploration of Activities in Solitude and Connections to Processes of Learning
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Learner autonomy, the ability to take charge of one’s own learning, is one of the most valuable skills educators can encourage their students to develop. The ability to learn how to learn provides opportunities for students not only to take responsibility for their own learning, but also to determine its direction. What are the avenues one can take to promote the development of learner autonomy? A large body of literature articulating the importance of learning as a structured, experiential process has emerged over the last three decades. The research of John Dewey and David Kolb regarding experiential education has contributed to the formal structure of a method of this kind of learning. Kurt Hahn, whose ideas about experiential learning stress reflection and also solitude, a state of being alone, offer a significant connection to psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory, where one is “intensely involved in a meaningful activity [and is] able to remain focused for the length of time needed to achieve a deeply valued goal (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008, p. 6). This connection is seen most clearly in what Csikszentmihalyi suggests are the conditions for flow, one of which is concentration. The ability to concentrate is certainly a condition for higher learning processes and is therefore an important condition to take into consideration with regard to education and learning. Conditions for concentration however, seem to be rooted in solitude (Behuniak, 2006; Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). Although solitude is something that is needed to concentrate and to develop our complex selves, (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008) current cultural trends expose an avoidance of solitude. Importantly, it seems that neither schools nor the culture of schooling value the importance of, nor the conditions needed to foster positive experiences of being alone, of fostering experiences in solitude. Instead, current school climate seems to dissuade us from experiencing learning at a pace that will help develop learner autonomy, indeed the ideals of education (Gatto, 2003). This qualitative study will explore how six participants who engage in a variety of activities during which they believe themselves to be engaged in a deep level of concentration express how concepts related to flow as a learning process affects them as learners. Additionally, the study will consider the value of experiential learning as central to the participants’ overall understanding of and success in their chosen activities. The purpose of this study is to illustrate the value of and conditions for learning that takes place during flow-based activities; the process of learning that takes place through the practice of activities at which healthy competence and engagement at a deep level of concentration is required. It will in turn investigate the implications these activities have in relation to the development of learner autonomy.