Adult Learning Essentials:
What is adult learning?
Adult learning is any "post-compulsory" learning. Other terms used for Adult Learning are "Life-long Learning" and "Continuing Education".
Adult learning is a broad term that can comprise formal college education; job related training, community education, or self improvement. Adult learning is vital in today's changing world where the facts and approaches we learned in our formal education are obsolete within a few years. Life-long learning has visible economic implications, contributes to the growth of society, helps bring about change, and improves the quality of life for the individual.
Its been said that adult learning is all about change - change in attitude, change in knowledge, change in behavior, change in a skill, change in how we think, and change in productivity.
Why is adult learning different? Or is it?
Since the first adult learning theory was developed it has been argued that adults learn differently because, among other things, they bring with them experiences that children don't.
Andragogy (how adult learn) differs from Pedagogy (how children learn) in that pedagogy does not address prior experiences. To this extent we can say that they are different, however, even with young learners, andragogical or a mix of andragogical-pedagogical approaches, work better than purely pedagogical ones. The reason for this is simple; we retain and understand better those things that relate to our experience or real world situations.
Knowles coined the term andragogy but he evolved in his views as can be seen in the table below. His most recent conclusion is that the use of andragogical and pedagogical principles is to be determined by the situation and not the age of the learner.
|Andargogy 1970||The art and science of helping adults learn.||
Pedagogy is not always appropriate for teaching adults on the basis of crucial assumptions about adult learners that are different from those of child learners|
|Andragogy 1980||A model of assumptions about all learners to be used alongside the pedagogical model.||
The choice of which model to use depends upon the situation rather than solely upon whether the learner is an adult or a child.|
Knowles, Malcolm Shepherd. The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. 2nd ed. Wilton, Conn.: Association Press, 1980.
Still, in spite of what was said above there are observable differences between adult and childhood learning. To understand the differences we can turn to the summary complied by Marie Wallace.
Adults are not a homogenous group but in learning they generally:
- Are much more self-directed than children.
- Take responsibility for their learning experiences.
- Seek learning experiences that are learner-oriented.
- Have a large reservoir of life experiences to bring to and support new learning.
- Flourish when their abilities and life achievements acknowledged and respected.
- Prefer a practical and immediately relevant approach.
- Learn readily from their peers.
- Have formed a dominant learning style and know what it is.
- Want immediate and regular feedback.
- Are ready to learn when an event in their personal/professional life sparks "the need to know."
- May be "education wounded" from earlier pedagogical experiences and require "unlearning" to become an effective adult learner.
- An authoritative atmosphere with subject-oriented instruction.
- A teaching hierarchy who decide what subjects you learn, what the approach will be, when the instruction will take place and how you are to learn.
- Little practical, how-to-use-this-in-your-life today instruction, unless you are in music, sports, or the arts.
- A teaching model resembling a funnel with the teacher at the big end pouring in knowledge and the students at the little end filling their empty brains.
What are the principles of adult learning?
Adults learn best when:
- Their prior learning is appreciated and/or rewarded
- The subject matter is relevant to their needs (professional or other)
- Full of partial opportunity for self direction is provided
- They can employ critical reflection
- Mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn
- The instruction provides opportunity for interaction
- Dialog is part of the learning
- Practical/hand-on experience is part of the learning
Adult Learning Myths
- Adult learning is inherently joyful
- Adults are innately self-directed learners
- Good educational practice always meets the needs articulated by learners themselves
- There is a uniquely adult learning process as well as a uniquely adult form of practice.
How adults are best taught online
1. LECTURE - usually a straight talk
- May have presentations slides/screens
- May be steamed, downloadable or podcasted (MP3)
- Develop ideas/arguments via online conferences
- Streaming audio
- Streaming video or animation (live pre-recorded)
- Sharing desktops (conferencing)
- Demos (Captivate)
- Pre-recorded or live (audio, video, desktop media)
- Structured or unstructured
- Group or plenary
- Each group requires space
(The above can be performed via forums, live chat/desktop conferencing, messenger groups, listservs, telephony, etc.)
7. FISH BOWL - a small group discussion observed by another group. Then process is then discussed by the group as a whole.
- Online conferencing, forums, chat
- Any of the synchronous or asynchronous technologies.
- Synchronous technology (conferencing, desktop sharing)
- Online forum technology
While we often think of role play as a live interaction between the roles, asynchronous role play is another avenue with that may yield superior learning due to the time for reflection.
- Synchronous or asynchronous technology.
- Online synchronous or asynchronous (custom development is often needed)
- Online synchronous or asynchronous games (custom development is often needed)
- Forums, chat, conferencing.
- Carrying out a task
- Learning by doing
- Synchronous or asynchronous problem solving are valid approaches depending on the subject matter.
- Web pages with decision making links.
- Asynchronous technology, forums,
- Synchronous or asynchronous (forums, chat, conferencing)