Midlife ABCs: Adult Learning, Bourbon, Change, and Dating

School days. A now-retired teacher still learning in midlife.

Adult Learning Theory

During a recent bout of insomnia, I read an article on adult learning theory that triggered many midlife connections, past and present. The article outlined 10 key principles for “adult” learning, which are actually the foundation of best-practice pedagogy for learners at any age:

  • relevancy
  • self-direction
  • relatable content
  • problem-centered
  • motivating
  • needs-focused
  • cooperative/team-based
  • schema-linked
  • interest-based
  • collaboratively designed

These tenets of teaching are as critical for successful learning at age 5 as they are at age 50, and they reminded me of my days with young learners before I retired from teaching as my second career.

While reading the article, I recalled designing an interactive SMART board game for my second-grade students as part of a technology professional development (PD) assignment. The problem to be solved in the game was how to package snowglobes in a snowglobe factory for shipping in boxes. The boxes had to be rectangles. Each box had to contain exactly 24 globes, without stacking, and the globes had to fill the complete area of each box.

I modeled the mechanics of how to operate the game, and reviewed the properties of a rectangle from a prior geometry lesson, but gave no other instruction or guidance. Through hands-on trial and error, children dragged images of snowglobes into rectangles they created.

It sounds simple, but at 7 years old, many children don’t yet understand the concept of “conservation.” They don’t quite grasp the fact that containers of different dimensions can contain the same amounts of something. My students struggled, argued with their “packaging partner,” and had to repack over and again. But eventually, they figured out the concept of arrays — a gateway to learning repeated addition of equal groups and a foundational lesson in multiplication. Some of their boxes had one row of 24 globes; others had two rows of 12 globes, or three of eight, eight of three, and so on.

Their next assignment was to work in “product design” teams to come up with suggestions for improving the “prototype” game. Children helped me incorporate their suggestions, which included changing colors, adding animation and sound, and adding control buttons so students could turn off sounds and motion if they were too distracting. Young children know way more than I do about technology.

I explained to the class that I had to present the game to our school principal as part of my assignment. I asked for their suggestions on how to “sell” the game and get a good grade. That turned into team-based persuasive and explanatory writing assignments that built on prior language arts learning.

These engaged second-grade students began learning multiplication, practiced writing and teamwork skills, and were completely invested in their learning. By watching children “play” and problem-solve, I gained valuable insight for planning instructional next steps to address each learner’s needs. This kind of integrated, problem-based learning takes place in school classrooms everywhere, starting as early as preschool. Universal learning theory in practice.

Bourbon (and Dating)

The adult learning theory article also reminded me of courses on creating bourbon distillery destinations and visitor experiences. Each course stressed marketing — and teaching — basics:

  • Know your audience
  • Know your brand
  • Give folks a reason to come
  • Tell a clear story
  • Entertain and engage
  • Educate at different levels
  • Create lasting memories
  • Be agile and pivot-ready
  • Stay in touch
  • Create advocates

If this doesn’t also sound exactly like basic rules for creating a dating experience then I don’t know what does. One webinar by Moonshine University (my kind of PD!) described three audience levels. Paddlers are inexperienced beginners who are new to bourbon. They look at pictures. Swimmers are intermediate bourbon drinkers with some knowledge. They read words. Divers are experienced bourbon aficionados with advanced knowledge. They question everything and will tell you a thing or two. This. Is. Dating.

I am a dating Diver in midlife, unfortunately. I avoid dating other Divers. I realize how unfair this sounds. But here’s the thing: Midlife women who are Divers in dating are still Divers because the men who are Divers in dating are can be…well…dicks not good dating material. I know…pretty nervy of me to say this as a Diver myself. But I create advocates, and they stay in touch long after we stop dating, because I am not a dick a good person. (Notwithstanding my issue with texpiration.) I also tend to avoid Paddlers — men who are just starting to dip a toe in the waters of dating due to a recent divorce or death. Paddler daters may be at risk of drowning…and may pull you under with them. Swimmers are my sweet spot. Never mind that I don’t know how to swim.

Quickly identifying Paddlers, Swimmers, and Divers is key to delivering a great experience, whether on a date or at a distillery. A simple, interactive touch-screen “game” — say, a timed attribute or trait sort — could be one way to immediately assess knowledge levels before the start of an experience, allowing for differentiation of delivery. This could be done at home on a mobile phone or on-site on tablets, with results submitted as part of a registration process. Similar scorers would then be grouped for tailored experiences.

If only I could figure this out for real-time dating applications I’d be set for life.

The Moonshine U. course also talked about the importance of communicating value through pricing. Turns out a free experience is not regarded as highly — not thought to be as valuable — as a paid experience. Yep. DAY-TING.

This and featured image:
Pexels Free Photo Library

Change (and Dating)

At the time I was working on that teaching technology PD assignment, I was in the middle of a rocky seven-year romantic relationship. I remember joking about developing a problem-based, interactive learning game to teach my then-partner how to be in a committed relationship. I thought about all this again while reading the adult learning theory article, and began wondering anew about creating some kind of interactive game for adults, to teach relationship and dating skills. What if I could design a game to teach adult males empathy, communication, honesty, and romance? I should probably also design a game to teach myself patience, tolerance, and vulnerability. If nothing else, getting feedback on the prototypes could be fun.

I’m thinking of all this now because A. I can’t sleep, and B. I’m preparing for a big change. I’m moving to Portugal, where I will be starting over. A fresh opportunity and clean slate for…er…teaching and learning.

Change is not easy. I’ll be leaving relationships behind when I move. I need to learn how to do this too. There’s no interactive game to help me. Just hands-on bungling as I go. In all my expat research I have yet to find anything written about how hard this part of the process is.

I’m leaving someone I very nearly moved in with in 2020. A man I met and then left behind shortly thereafter in 2019 when I went on my 70-day solo trip around the world. A man I then reconnected with upon my return, and whom I love but can’t be with because there are things I can’t accept. Not accepting all of him exactly as he is isn’t fair to him and is toxic to a relationship. We are still friends in our own way, however. True friends, with a special place in my friend closet, so leaving this complicated three-year relationship behind is emotional in a hard-to-understand way.

There’s other hard-to-understand stuff I’m leaving behind too. Probably for the best but still not without some sense of loss. Where’s the PD for this? Theory is murky here.

I think I’m going to apply this “adult” learning theory to myself first. Create a problem-based STEM challenge, perhaps. Say, develop code for an AR app that teaches aloof people how to “do” vulnerability through a series of simulations designed to get learners to share, open up, trust. Wait. No way. I’m retired now and I’d need second-graders to help me with coding. Maybe just a design challenge to create a collection of representative avatars for the app, and leave the coding to a collaborator.

I’m going to keep thinking about this. Repeatedly. Because that’s all I’ve been doing every night. Thinking and not sleeping. It’s an expected stress response to this huge, self-directed life change that’s coming. I’ve got this. Another learning opportunity. I can design a game for this too…to learn to stop overthinking. Or I can just distract myself with my Insight Timer app.

I know! I’ll modify my snow globe packaging game into a moving overseas packing game to teach spatial utilization for cost efficiency. I could collaborate with customs and airline officials.

I’m on a roll at 2:38 AM! Where’s the bourbon?

Fuck. Gosh darn. I need to learn how to sleep.

All images are my own except as noted.

The Hot Goddess

Instagram: retired_rewired_inspired

If you enjoyed this please remember to Share, Like, Follow, Comment, Subscribe. (This is my “call to action” I’m supposed to include in every post. Thanks so much for your support!)❤


  1. I have such a friend, and I have similar questions and no answers, and I feel I can/need to look up to you because as you navigate and write about this, I gain a smidgen of clarity. 🙂

    This was a very interesting post. With regards to learning, have you ever read Helen Keller’s biography? She explains in detail how she did most of her learning while in the field, so to speak. Rarely did she sit at a desk (being deaf and blind, she counted on sensory experiences for comprehension of concepts). Her childhood educational experiences could teach us somewhat indoctrinated midlifers a thing or two about learning…

    Please write more about moving on and letting go and focusing forward and facing fear… Please and thank you. 💟

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a supportive comment ❤. Thank you so much, Claudette! I believe I have more questions than answers, and will overthink the hell out of the answers I think I may have. I am thrilled if my post is of interest and helps in a quest for clarity. It’s a journey, right? Baby steps and backward steps…
      I have read Helen Keller’s biography and you’re right — good lessons for learning.

      Liked by 1 person

    • How kind of you to say, Michele💜. Same here!
      Endless stream of thoughts when unable to sleep. My son said this years ago at his coming-of-age ceremony speech at our non-religious church: “I am agnostic. I am also dyslexic. What does an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac do at night? Stays awake wondering if there is a Dog.”
      This is me now. Wondering about everything 🤪.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So sorry you can’t sleep but I enjoyed this article! Really appreciate your analogies between learning, dating and bourbon! All I can offer is that perhaps a “hot toddy” will help you sleep! LOL Best Wishes! Leigh

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Do you consider this major change – your moving – the end of life as you know it? You are leaving relationships behind. You are leaving a lot of things but not yourself.

    You can pack yourself up in any configuration you like. Same face✔️, same brain✔️, same heart✔️, same love for bourbon✔️, ten fingers and toes✔️, etc. That school exercise was not for naught!

    Consider yourself a gift to the new place. I believe you be accepted, as most gifts are, with love and gratitude. From that 📦 to this 🎁.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would struggle with those second-grade assignments. I never knew teaching was so complicated and technical. As far as learning, it has been my experience that interest is a lot more important than ability or intelligence. If you develop a learning game for dating and relationships, you will definitely get rich! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your adult learning theory is very informational. Love the humour infused in explaining it. As always brilliant write, I enjoyed reading your post. And, yes change is not easy but it is also wonderful. Look on the bright side…!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Empty the glass that’s full
    Fill the glass that’s empty

    Sounds like a solution to an interactive game on drinking bourbon … Or just distributing a liquid until all containers have the same amount or maybe the complimentary nature of dating 🤔 where was I going with this? I don’t remember

    Anyhoo bon voyage and bottoms up


    Liked by 1 person

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