In Context #18 (Fall, 2007, pp. 18—23); copyright 2007 by The Nature Institute
Transformation in Adult Learning
The ability to learn is the expression of a tension. Learning is rooted in and emerges out of what we have already learned in the past. The already-learned forms the ground from which further learning can take place. Upon this ground we can take new steps. A child who can walk can learn to run. An English-speaker can learn French. A botanist who knows the lily family has mental and perceptual tools to recognize and delineate other plant families. We always build on what we have. The past lives on in us as memory, as experience, as capacity, and as knowledge. Without the past being active in our present we could not learn.
However, if we were "filled" or "consumed" by what we already knew - what we have become - we would be unable or unwilling to learn. Learning presupposes not only a ground but a wide, ever receding horizon. Our gaze and our interest are directed toward this horizon as toward a realm of possibility. It is the realm of the "not yet," what still can become. It is the open future that can bring new experiences, new meaning, and new life. As the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1977) writes,
There is always a world already interpreted, already organized in its basic relations, into which experience ste