There are many learning theories, each of them emphasizing various aspects of the teaching and learning process. I support the claim that adult learning should be looked at as a distinct style of learning and is unique to that of child and adolescence learning. Adults bring their life experiences into the classroom. They bring past knowledge as well as past biases and beliefs. Adult students want to be acknowledged as adults. They need to be actively involved in determining how and what they will learn, and they need active rather than passive learning experiences. Many adults are stressed from their daily lives responsibilities when they arrive for class and need a style of teaching that is creative, alive and humorous to hold their attention.
Adult educators must produce learning environments in which all learners can feel they are accomplishing something or benefiting some how. The types of benefits and interpretation of accomplishment can vary depending on a person’s socio-economic background, culture, and situation in life, age or a variety of other variables.
Whether or not a learning experience is successful will depend on the adult educator’s ability to understand the differences in people. Equally important is the personal experiences the educator has with a variety of participants and their characteristics. No one theory will fit every learning situation. There is an exception to every rule. There are, however, two theories that I feel closely supports my line of reasoning.
First is Knowles’ theory of andragogy.
Andragogy makes the following assumptions about the design of learning: (1) Adults need to know why they need to learn something (2) Adults need to learn experientially, (3) Adults approach learning as problem-solving, and (4) Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value (Knowles, 1984). Knowles endeavored to develop a theory that was specific to adult learning. Knowles emphasizes that adults are self-directed and expect to take responsibility for decisions. Staff development programs must embrace this essential viewpoint (Knowles, 1984).
Therefore, in following the theory of andragogy a successful staff development program would focus on the way the information was being taught and less on the information’s content. The program would concentrate on creativity, hands-on coursework, role-playing and individualized needs (Knowles, 1984).
Second is Characteristics of Adult Learners (CAL) by P. Cross
As found in this weeks reading material the CAL model joins together other adult learning theories such as andragogy, experimental learning and lifespan psychology. CAL consists of two classes of variables: personal characteristics and situational characteristics. Personal characteristics include: aging, life phases, and developmental stages. The three dimensions take on different roles depending on the point a person is in their life. Situational characteristics consist of the circumstances encompassing the students learning experience. These circumstances could be whether or not the person is going to school full-time or part-time, and perhaps the arrangement of their schedule.
Despite their situation an adult learner will augment their effort when motivated by a need, a benefit, or a desire to learn. The experiences in which the learner will participate must be significant and meaningful to him or her in order to build incentive.
Adult learners learn at different rates and in various ways. Their abilities can vary depending on their educational level, intellectual ability, personality and learning styles.
In concluding I want to reiterate that I maintain adult learning should be looked at as a distinct style of learning. It is unique and should be studied separate to that of child and adolescence learning. Children learners are as a blank slate. Adult learners are entering the classroom with a mountain of issues surrounding their need or desire to learn. These situations must be addressed if we are to achieve success in holding the interest of the adult learner. Adult learners need to be involved in active learning. The reason the adult learner has entered the classroom also needs to be addressed. The typical adult learner seeks out an education for a reason. The reason can be self-improvement, job enhancement, or quest for more income. It may be self-fulfillment, maintaining culture status, society status or a whole slew of other reasons. My point is, adults who pursue further education have a mission to fulfill. The need may be personal or secular.
Knowles,M. (1984). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (3rd Ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.