Experimentation, Practicing, and the Learning Agenda

An integral part of the learning process is the opportunity to test our nascent theories about ourselves as they develop. Experimenting with new ideas and new behaviors and getting good feedback from the world is how we calibrate our progress toward intentional positive change.  

In our evidence-based work with college students, we emphasize experiential learning informed by Intentional Change Theory, established and developed by Richard Boyatzis, Professor of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University.

Intentional Change Theory outlines these five common-sense steps to follow when making lasting change:

  1. Discover your ideal self.
  2. Discover your real self.
  3. Create your learning agenda.
  4. Experiment with and practice new habits.
  5. Get support and Repeat the Cycle.

In this cycle, we support students in recognizing and learning to change the things they can control. This is the fun part. Positive change through experiential learning or “learning through reflection on doing”[1] is the foundation of the support we offer students with the goal of inspiring happier, more productive, and ultimately more fulfilling lives—starting right now, in college.

As John Dewey, philosopher, psychologist, and education reformer, describes it, “Such happiness as life is capable of comes from the full participation of all our powers in the endeavor to wrest from each changing situations of experience its own full and unique meaning.” By virtue of experimentation, practicing, self-reflection, and honest feedback, we help students wrest meaning from their experiences, recognize how things are progressing toward their Ideal Self, and learn to make appropriate adjustments along the way. These adjustments constitute experimentation with and practice of new habits.

That college students face the strong headwinds of practicing these new habits in challenging and novel environments increases the difficulty of assessing their efficacy. In college, so many things are changing simultaneously that students—especially those who learn differently or may have executive functioning shortfalls—can easily become overwhelmed and give up.

This is where Focus Collegiate comes in. Our Learning Specialists and Collegiate Life Coordinators understand and acknowledge that change is hard. We also know that having a supportive guide and cheerleader is essential to a student’s willingness to persevere when the going gets tough. The successful adoption of new behaviors is not easy; it demands perseverance. Experimentation and reflection on those behaviors within the safety of a resonant relationship can make them possible.

By creating such relationships characterized by compassion, caring, and understanding our team underscores the impact positive emotions can have on intentional change and reinforces an individual’s “motivation, effort, optimism, flexibility, creative thinking, resilience and other adaptive behaviors.”[2]

Many of our in-bound college students coming from highly structured environments are thrown off course when suddenly confronted by the very unstructured environment of college. The stress caused by this lack of structure is compounded by a student’s not knowing what they don’t know and at the same time not knowing why this is relevant. Their new behavior self-management skills are unpracticed and untested. And the speed and amount of change faced by college students seem to work against forward momentum and satisfaction.

In college, students face unprecedented change—the Learning Agenda keeps it all from happening all at once; our Collegiate Life Coordinators and Learning Specialists help students learn to self-assess their new behavioral strategies for blossoming in the face of that change with the ultimate outcome being the sustainability and traction of self-advocacy and resiliency.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experiential_learning

[2] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-11607-004