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Adult Learning Theory Paper Essay


In an effort to determine how adults learn, experts examine and evaluate studies that have been done that involve the adult learner. The more that experts understand how the learner processes information, the better the understanding will be on how to structure their learning environment. Research is continually changing in this area, and educators know there are differences in how each adult learner attains information. In the two articles, “Adult Learning Theory for the Twenty-First Century” by Sharan B. Merriam, and “Adult Learning Theory: Applications to Non-Traditional College Students” by Kenner and Weinerman, different theories are discussed.

In the journal article, “Adult Learning Theory for the Twenty-First Century” by Sharan B. Merriam, she explains that there are always new updates and research on adult learning theories. “Today the historical, sociocultural context of adult learning is recognized as a key component in understanding the nature of adult learning” (Merriam, 2008, p.94). This differs from the early decades where experts only focused on one type of learner. More attention is being placed on exactly how the adult learner learns in society than just as an individual. Adult learning was first thought of as a cognitive process, however currently it is thought of as a much “broader activity involving the body, emotions, and the spirit as well as the mind” (Merriam, 2008, p.98).

Another theory of adult learning is shown in the journal article, “Adult Learning Theory: Applications to Non-Traditional College Students” by Kenner and Weinerman. This theory is about the adult learner and how she takes her work success and integrates it in her academic success. She uses her life experiences to help in her academic community. “By understanding what makes adult learners different from traditional students, developmental educators can provide specific tools that help adult learners integrate into the college or university environment and increase their chances for success” (Kenner, Weinerman, 2011, p. 88). Since integration into a new academic environment can bring challenges, it is important that the educator understands the student’s history and can incorporate different learning styles in a successful way (Kenner, Weinerman, 2011).

Both of these articles are similar in the fact that both of the authors’ goals are to better understand the adult learner. Both believe that there are differences in how adults learn and are focused on how to better understand and make the learner successful. The first article recognizes the changes in theory over the years and brings attention to new theories. It also touches on the fact that previous life experiences play a part in how one learns, which is the focus of the second article. The second article is more specific in the way that it focuses on a particular group of adult learners.

Experts are continuing to understand the way the adult learner learns, and how to better meet the goals of their learner to make them successful in the academics. The way adults learn is continually changing, and the more knowledge that is gained, the more a learning environment can be structured to fit the needs of the individual learner.


As an adult learner in the education world, the more knowledge that I have on the different ways I learn, the better I will be able to understand why and how I learn. I will be able to apply different theories to my everyday learning. This will help me have a greater understanding of how to incorporate this into my own work and everyday life.

I can apply the first article “Adult Learning Theory for the Twenty-First Century” by Sharan B. Merriam, to myself because as the expert is continuing to gain knowledge and understanding on how adults learn, I then can take that information and use it in my everyday academic career. Merriam states that adult learning is a multidimensional phenomenon, and I agree with that. There are many different ways I can learn, and I have to take into account that the cultures surrounding me can play a part in that.

The second article, “Adult Learning Theory: Applications to Non-Traditional College Students” by Kenner and Weinerman, I think I relate to more because I did not go into college right away after finishing high school. Getting a college degree was not as important to me as going out in the work force and making money, or traveling and having the opportunity to be adventurous.

I have a different learning style because of that, and in a way it can both help and hurt my learning. “Knowles identifies four principles that characterize adult learners” (Kenner, Weinerman, 2011). The fourth is that we are motivated, which I definitely am. We go back to school to achieve a personal goal that we have set for ourselves (Kenner, Weinerman, 2011). That is why I have decided to go back to school.

Both of these articles show important theories on how the adult learns, but the second article resonates with my own personal experiences better. Merriam explains that there is a value to incorporate more creative ways of learning into practice (Merriam, 2008). I think that because I left school to pursue my own adventures, I did gain a different set of skills that I can now bring into my learning environment. I agree that I face challenges that differ from other students, but I also understand the plus side to taking the route that I chose (Kenner, Weinerman, 2011).

In conclusion, there were both similarities and differences in these articles, and they both play a part in how an adult learns. I can take this knowledge and incorporate it into my learning, and also take my own personal experiences from life and replicate it into my academic career. These articles helped me understand why I learn the way I do, and how I can strive to be a better student now and in the future.


Kenner, Carl & Weinerman, Jason (2011) Adult Learning Theory: Applications to Non- Traditional College Students. 41.2 Spring 2011, p 87-96

Merriam, Sharan. (2008) Adult Learning Theory for the Twenty-First Century. New Directions for Continuing Education. 119. 93-98. DOI: 10.1002/ace.

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