Shamala was one of my students who graduated with a Professional Diploma in Management about 10 years ago. When I first met her, she was a high school drop out. Allow me to be very direct here. Like most of our adult students, she was very passionate and committed to learning. Despite that eagerness, I could sense the inferiority complex in her. There was a doubt.
“Am I qualified to be a student of an established university like Universiti Teknologi Malaysia?”
That kind of doubt. Today, Shamala is the Founder and CEO of a successful MSC status company having a headquarters in the Technology Park Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Her organisation specialises in IT Expert Outsourcing services, with a few major corporations in Malaysia as part of her long list customers. She is only 30 years old and has big plans to make her company a regional industry leader within the next 5 years. Now, she is an extremely confident and an inspiring leader. I was so touched when she told me that UTM’s Professional Diploma in Management and her passionate lecturers contributed significantly to her success, both personally and professionally.
If you must know, Shamala is among thousands of students who benefitted from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia School of Professional and Continuing Education or known as UTMSPACE. My company, SMC Trainers Malaysia is a smart partner of UTMSPACE. My journey as an enabler and facilitator for lifelong learning for about 28 years has been extremely fulfilling. Reflecting on my teaching journey, I have noticed successful learners like Shamala often demonstrates the following characteristics:
Ownership. Successful adult learners often demonstrate ownership for their personal and professional growth. They are not dependent on their HR Department for learning and development opportunities. Instead of blaming others, these students look for opportunities to learn. As the saying goes when the students are ready, a teacher will appear. I am glad that I had many opportunities to ‘appear’ for these students who took ownership to learn while being in a confused state of mind on the art of learning. Our professional development programs were designed based on adult learning which we appreciate the experience of our students. Classroom and post-module assignments were carefully designed to provide opportunities for experiential learning. Of course, my BSc (Education) qualification from USM about 28 years ago was very handy in navigating the complexity of teaching and learning.
Commitment. Successful adult learners consistently demonstrate a commitment to learning. Like most adults, they ‘wear’ multiple hats: parents, spouse, employees, siblings, friends and so on. These roles come with various obligations and often a distraction. Commitment to stay focused and ‘do not major in minor things’ seems to be the mantra for success. Weekend classes mean they have to say NO to many events like parties, family gathering or early morning EPL football game of their favourite team. Making these decisions is part of the informal learning experience of decision making. In today’s knowledge-based economy, we are paid to make a decision. Adult learners have many opportunities to apply ‘ decision-making muscles’. I am lucky to share my personal experiences in managing many challenges while pursuing my part-time studies as an adult learner. Juggling between the roles as father, husband, employee and a student was an amazing experience. After wearing graduation robe six times, I have enough stories to convince and inspire my students from all over the world.
Hard Work. Dreams don’t work unless we do! While ownership and commitment are very important, nothing works without hard work. Successful adult learners are crystal clear about the amount of hard work required to graduate. Waiting for the children to sleep to start doing the assignments may lead to late hours. Juggling between the report to bosses and lecturers assignment may result in missing many teh tarik sessions with our buddies. Many of our working adults have English language barriers. Again, it requires hard work to refer dictionary and Google Translate continuously to understand what that Mat Salleh is trying to tell us in the reference books and professional articles. One of the major elements of our Professional Development Program is the presentation skill in English. Many of my students were literally shivering while doing their presentation in English, especially in the early modules. With hard work, I have seen a massive transformation in their presentation skills within just 1-2 years. Our own Samudera Toastmasters Club provides a great opportunity to experience and enjoy the magic of Toastmasters in facilitating public speaking skills. Toastmasters were helping millions of people worldwide since 1924 in public speaking. My own experience as the District 51 (Peninsular Malaysia) Champion of 2012 Toastmasters International Impromptu Speech Competition is a great advantage to help my students with public speaking.
As a teacher, facilitating adult learners for the last 28 years has been an exciting and fulfilling journey. I had the privilege to facilitate many ‘high school dropouts’, making them realise that the best version of them is yet to be discovered.
Lifelong Learning is the ‘light’ for a personal discovery. I wish to be remembered as the practitioner and ambassador of the quote ‘from cradle to grave, life is a continuous learning process’. There are thousands of Shamala out there who wrongly perceive themselves as high school dropouts and underachievers. If you think you are one of them, not to worry.
I’m sure there’s a spirit of Shamala within you.