What can we learn by looking at our life, and our experiences, over time? How can this be helpful for the future?
Session 1 was about looking at yourself in your present situation. However, the person you are now is partly a result of everything that has happened to you in the past and up to the present: who you were with, where you have been, what you have done and the outside events that have affected your life.
We learn from good and bad experiences and the ups and downs of life, but some people may have had extreme events in their life that would be distressing to revisit. If this is the case, you can choose to focus selectively on specific areas of your life.
The value of looking at our roles and experiences, and recognising the influences on our lives, is that we can unpick what really interests and motivates us and start to understand our decision making: is there a pattern? For instance, what we consider important can change over time, or can differ at different points of our life. How we feel about these experiences can vary too.
So, how do we define high points and low points? Are there recurring themes? Do we seem to make the same mistakes, or seem to set ourselves up to fail or repeatedly not reach our potential? Is the picture a series of ups and downs or is the overall pattern one of steady development or steady decline? Perhaps personal development is more important to us than professional development?
In this session you are asked to look at your experience of life, with the aim of working out what skills and abilities you have, in addition to the obvious ones you have gained from education and work experience.
In this section you will be asked to draw a timeline to plot your life experience. The actual time frame will be up to you – it can include your whole life since childhood, or you might want to focus on recent study or work experience, or on specific roles you might have (such as carer, volunteer or student, for example).
The timeline creates a graphic picture of your life (or a period in your life) that will help you to identify the ups and downs, and also any patterns or recurring themes that you may not have been aware of.
It can be very difficult to look back over our life or our experiences; for some people, this may bring to mind some issues or memories that they would rather not confront. If you find this activity distressing, you may want to omit it or to discuss it with someone you trust. Remember, you can also select which areas of your life you want to focus on. This might be very recent work experience (either paid or unpaid) or you might want to focus more on individual roles you have in life.
Before you try creating a timeline of your own life, we’d like you to look at a couple of examples and think about how they might relate to your own life and experiences.
Look at the example timelines and listen to the audio clips. Then try to answer the questions that follow.
Have a look at what Mo’s timeline might look like.
Now listen to Mo talking about his adult life and the process of his coming to the UK and settling into life in Scotland.
Have a look at Ying’s timeline.
Now listen to Ying talking about her adult life and the process of change from growing up and working in China to moving to the UK for work and study.
Consider the following questions:
Make some notes in the activity sheet provided or in your notebook.
Go to Activity 2.1 of your Reflection Log. Once you have completed the activity, make sure you save the document again.
If you are working in a group, you might want to share your answers and discuss your notes with each other, or with your mentor if you have one.
Having looked at examples by Mo and Ying, try drawing your own timeline. You can do this on paper – we have provided a document that you may want to use for this – or online at bubbl.us. (The Open University is not responsible for third party websites or the information you choose to share with them.)
The bubbl.us website has instructions on how to use this free online tool. If you prefer not to use this, or don’t have access to the internet, don’t worry – pen and paper will do just as well. The drawing tools available in most word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, can also be used to produce your timeline or other diagrams.
If you don’t want to, or have difficulty in producing a diagram, remember that what is important in this activity is the information or understanding from your experience that is brought to mind. If you prefer, you can simply make a list of the high points and low points of the period of your life and reflect on these.
Go to Activity 2.2 in your Reflection Log. Once you have completed your activity, make sure you save the document again. If you want to make any notes for yourself, a page for notes is provided in the Reflection Log following Activity 2.2.
Remember, it’s up to you what you want to include and the time frame you want to focus on – your whole life, or a specific period. It doesn’t need to be to scale. Low points are on the bottom half of the page and high points on the top half, just as Mo and Ying have done. You do not need to include anything that you want to keep private.
If you are in a group and you would like to share your timeline, you can do so by printing it and pinning it up on the wall. If you are working online, save the timeline as an image file and post it to an online forum or via social media.
We all experience ups and downs in life: good points and bad points. Whatever our experience, we are learning as we go. Learning is not something that stops when we leave childhood behind. Learning is lifelong. Some learning is about ourselves: the type of person we are and our strengths and qualities. Other learning is about skills, qualifications, understanding ideas and concepts, or the society we live in. For example, Mo and Ying learned about the process of adapting to life in a new country.
We’d now like you to move from plotting what happened, when, to thinking about what you’ve learned from these different roles and experiences, and how you’ve developed as a person over time.
But first, think again about Mo and Ying. They have both had their share of ups and downs. What did they learn from these experiences?
Look at Mo’s timeline again but with some key learning points added.
Now listen to what Mo says about what he has learned from experience.
Mo talks here about what he has learned from the different roles, environments and situations he has been in. His timeline shows a lot of ‘ups’, indicating that he has been able to take something from each situation and move on.
Here are some key words from Mo’s comments:
By reflecting on his past experience, Mo learned that he is hard-working and adaptable, and that he is capable of learning new things and coping with difficult situations. He has learned that change takes time – especially when you find yourself in a new country or society – but he has the skills, determination and resilience to achieve his goals. He has also found that although there are difficulties, other people can help. He hopes to complete his studies soon and to continue with his new career in electronic and digital engineering.
Take a moment to think about the following questions:
Look again at Ying’s timeline, which also has learning points added.
Listen to what Ying says about what she has learned from experience.
Through reflecting on her experiences, Ying has used her skills and her personal qualities – e.g. ‘hard working’, ‘motivated’, ‘self-aware’ – to work towards the goals that she identified for herself.
Here are some key comments from Ying’s story:
She now has:
Can you identify what you have learned from looking at your own past experience?
In the next activity we’d like you to think about your past experiences and try to identify what you have learned from them.
Look at your own timeline again and think about what you have learned from your experience. Looking over the ups and downs, does it help you to recall how you felt at each point? What did you learn from each situation? Perhaps you found out more about your individual qualities and the type of work that suits you: a quality such as ‘hard working’, ‘good-humoured’ or ‘resilient’, perhaps? Or maybe you discovered that you need a change of direction?
Everyone’s experience will be different. There is no right or wrong answer.
We can see that learning is ongoing throughout our lives, through the ups and the downs.
Add your thoughts on this to your timeline in a different colour – you can find out how to do this on the bubbl.us help section. If you prefer not to use this online tool, or don’t have access to the internet, don’t worry – pen and paper will do just as well. You can use the sheet provided.
Go to Activity 2.3 in your Reflection Log. Once you have completed your activity, make sure you save the document again.
If you are working in a group, either online or face to face, you can share this with your group or save it and share it online, by saving the timeline as an image file and posting it to an online forum or via social media.
In Session 1 you started to look at your own roles, skills and qualities. The key point here was that by reflecting on our experiences, we learn something from them that helps us to move on.
Session 2 has shown how drawing a timeline is useful in terms of plotting what happened and when, and how we feel about these experiences; what we’ve learned from them and how they’ve helped to shape us as a person.
You have been looking back at your experiences of life, or a period of your life. Mo’s timeline illustrated that there are ups and downs, and that other factors have influenced his timeline. He has control over some of these factors, such as choosing to stay in Glasgow or to return to London. Other factors, like the economic recession or availability of college places, are outside his control.
In the next session you will be looking forward, and exploring the factors that influence the choices you make about your future. To start you thinking about the factors that influence your life, have a look at Figure 2.7. This spider diagram is a graphic way of illustrating connections.
Thinking about the range of factors in your life that influence your choices about the future, try drawing a spider diagram for yourself on paper or at bubbl.us. The bubbl.us website has instructions on how to use this free online tool. If you prefer not to use this, or don’t have access to the internet, don’t worry – pen and paper will do just as well. You can use the sheet provided.
Go to Activity 2.4 of your Reflection Log. Once you have completed the activity, make sure you save the document again.
The aim of this session was to get you thinking about your life and everything you have learned from your experience so far. By thinking about your past life you discover how your experiences, both good and bad, have helped you to grow and how much you have learned from them. Have these activities been useful? Did you learn anything new from this that you hadn’t noticed before?
You have now completed Session 2; you’ll explore these ideas further in Session 3.
If you would like further guidance on any issues these activities have raised for you, you can click here for a list of useful contacts (including the Open University Careers Service).
To conclude this part of the course and consolidate your learning you may like to complete the second quiz.
Quiz 2 provides evidence that you are achieving the following learning outcomes:
If you need a reminder about the quizzes and the criteria for getting a badge, visit How to complete the course quizzes.
Reflecting on Transitions was developed by Lindsay Hewitt and Christine McConnell of The Open University in Scotland in collaboration with Bridges Programmes. The optional quizzes for the related digital course badges for learners and support workers, respectively, were developed by Julie Robson (The Open University) and Jonathan Sharp (Bridges Programmes). The course was edited by Lindsay Hewitt and Jennifer Nockles (The Open University).
We are hugely grateful to Bridges’ clients, Mo, Ying, Eric and Natalia, whose stories have informed the development of this toolkit and bring to life the activities within it. We hope you find something in their experiences that speaks to you as well.
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The material acknowledged below is Proprietary and used under licence (not subject to Creative Commons Licence). Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this unit:
Figure 2.1: © Revensis/Dreamstime.com
Figure 2.4: © iStockphoto.com
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