Narrative Learning

In my experience as a writer, I have found that people like stories. A well-told tale, of believable people doing difficult things against all kinds of adversity can keep a person engaged for hours. People will listen to a fictional story about a difficult topic more willingly than a lecture on it. Narratives can help us understand the difficulties of life (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). They can inspire us to do great things. They can change our perspectives of ourselves and the world around us (Clark & Rossiter, 2008).

Learning Through a Personal Story

Writers often need feedback from other experienced writers. We get too close to our own work and finding the mistakes ourselves becomes so difficult, the errors practically need to march around with neon signs declaring their presence.

These critiques take time, and the vast majority of writers are bivocational, so we often work on an equal trade basis. I read my friend’s work while she reads mine, and we both agree to be critically honest with each other about whatever errors we find.

For the most part, I write science fiction and fantasy, so when my friend wanted a beta reader for her new book and considered me, I expected the same, or at least some brand of fiction. She sent me a file, and I opened it to find something very different: a touching, informative tale about recent and ongoing events in her life.

Adams’ book, Who I Am Yesterday (2012), recounts her husband’s decline from active and mentally brilliant into dementia. She begins with the vacation they went on when he first showed signs that something was not quite right and follows the events on through to the current state of their lives.

More than a simple recounting of events, this book gives advice to people facing the same issues with their loved ones. Sprinkled through her narrative are practical suggestions gleaned from her own experience and common sense. She details ways to handle situations when the loved one forgets who a critical person is, and she provides tips for how to keep people, the environment, and situations safe and less stressful through the use of routines. She advises caregivers, who often become overburdened and stressed, on ways to make sure they take care of themselves so they can be better capable of taking care of their declining loved ones.

She self-published her book through CreateSpace, and because of the quality of the work and the highly relevant subject matter, PDMI Publishing has contracted it for expansion, an update, and re-release.

I am not yet at a point where I need to become the caregiver for someone else, but as my parents age, that is likely to change. As a result, I get the definite impression I am going to need Adams’ advice in years to come.

However, even if I do not become the caretaker for my parents, there are still a number of useful lessons to be absorbed from Who I Am Yesterday. First, I see her love and commitment. She chose to take care of her husband at home in spite of the changes that were required in her life (Adams, 2012). By comparison, my siblings’ solution of sending our parents to a nursing home at the first sign of trouble and just visiting on weekends seems cold and almost ungrateful. There may be situations in which a nursing home is the best solution, but being a caregiver takes a remarkable commitment.

Part of that commitment includes radical changes in lifestyle. Rather than looking at all the changes needed and throwing in the towel, Adams went into problem-solving mode. She arranged with her Canadian employer to telecommute through a system she refers to as The Wormhole. She hired a fellow to come in and take care of her husband when she cannot or when she needs a break. She established emergency procedures in case something should happen to her, such as when she needed an emergency surgery recently. There have been organizational changes to rooms and furniture in her house to make things safer and more easily accessible.

Through her willingness to share her experiences and wisdom, Adams has taught me the value of commitment and problem-solving, and with the release of her book, she has the ability to teach many others.

Application to Adult Education

People enjoy a good story more than they enjoy a dry lecture (Clark & Rossiter, 2008). Stories can challenge our beliefs, encourage critical reflection, inspire us to do more, and help us make sense of the world around us (Clark & Rossiter, 2008, Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).

Some subjects of study lend themselves to stories more easily than others, but narratives can prove useful even in the hard sciences like physics and organic chemistry. Something as simple as requiring a journal entry for either the class period or for a unit can be helpful for guiding students into critical reflection.

Histories and biographies of key people and events can help students connect to the subject matter more easily. Narratives can also provide the answer to questions of relevance.

Narratives can help students in many ways and can be used as an invaluable part of adult education.


Adams, V. (2012). Who I Am Yesterday: A Path to Coping With a Loved One’s Dementia. Bellevue, WA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Clark, M.C. & Rossiter, M. (2008). Narrative Learning in Adulthood. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 119(3), 61-70. doi: 10.1002/ace

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


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