Adult Learning and Learning Styles

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 7 October 2016

Adult Learning and Learning Styles

When one thinks about education thoughts are naturally turned toward adolescents. In today’s society the media is quick to expose flaws in the educational system. One rarely thinks about the educational needs of adults, but for many adults there is a large need for continuing their education. One might venture to ask the question what is adult learning? According to Malcolm Knowles adult learning is a process of self-directed inquiry (Urological Nursing, 2006). Although there are many adults that are driven to continue their education, the idea can be overwhelming for most.

It is best for the adult learner to prepare for the journey by knowing the process of adult learning, identifying the types of learning styles, and identifying one’s personal learning style. Assessing the level of the above traits and the readiness to learn will equip the adult learner with an arsenal of tools. Learning is defined as, a relatively permanent change in an organisms behavior (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner 2004). There are a multiple theories as to how people learn. The more popular theory is the Learning Theory.

The learning theory encompasses five orientations to learning: Behaviorist, Humanist, Cognitivist, Social Cognitive, and Constructivist (Merriam et al. , 2007). This paper will focus on the behaviorist aspect of learning, the permanent change in behavior. Understanding how and why adults learn will increase the chances of teaching success. The reason most adults enter any learning experience is to create change. This could encompass a change in (a. ) their skills, (b. ) behavior, (c. ) knowledge level, or (d. ) even their attitudes about things (Adult Education Center, 2005).

The degree of motivation is what separate adult learners from school age children, previous experience, engagement in the learning process, and applied learning. Adults learn best when convinced of the need for knowing the information (Urologic Nursing, 2006). For example, an employee who is offered a training opportunity that will directly impact one’s job will be more likely to take advantage of the opportunity, as compared to an employee whose training opportunity is not directly related to the employee’s job description.

Adults have a greater depth, breath, and variation in the quality of previous life experiences than younger people (O’Brien, 2004). Former experiences can lead the adult learner to connect current learning to something learned in the past. For example, if an adult learner is taking an advance course in Accounting. One might be able to recall a mathematical strategy used previously in a basic course that can apply to the current accounting class. Utilizing experience in this fashion can lead to making the learning experience more meaningful.

In a classic study, Rogers (1969) illustrated that when an adult learner has control over the nature, timing, and direction of the learning process, the entire experience is facilitated. Adults tend to be self-directed and decide what they want to learn. For instance, in today’s economy many adults have decided to return to school in order to become more marketable in the current economic slowdown. The website for the Higher Education Statistics Agency ( HESA) states that 24% of undergraduate students are now classified as mature students (i. e.21 years of age), many of whom have arrived in university after completing a foundation-level access course at a further education college.

Choosing to return to school allows learners to have more control over the educational process. It allows the adult learner to choose which program to enroll, and the level of commitment towards the program the learner is willing to give. It is important to remember that in order to engage the adult learner and facilitate the transfer of knowledge, patience and time on the part of the teacher and learner are needed (Urologic Nursing, 2006).

As skills and knowledge are acquired, it is paramount to include return demonstrations by the learner (Urologic Nursing, 2006). It is important for the teachers to observe the learned skills in the learner, and for the learner to experience the progress in their understanding, and application of the education. Seeing progress and realizing a tangible movement forward in the learning process may increase the learner’s motivation to learn even more. Table 1. Characteristics of Adult Learners * Autonomous and self- directed.

* Accumulated a foundation of experiences and knowledge * Goal oriented * Relevancy oriented * Practical * Need to be shown respect Characteristics of Adult Learners Source: Knowles, 1970 Table 2. Sources of Motivation for Adult Learning * Social Relationships * External Expectations * Social Welfare * Personal Advancement * Escape/Simulation * Cognitive Interest Source: Lieb, 1991 Learning styles refers to the consistent way in which a learner responds to or interacts with stimuli in the learning context (Robert Loo, 2002).

Learning styles are related to cognitive styles of the learner’s personality, temperament, and motivation. According to Riding and Cheema (1991) the concept of learning styles seem to emerge in the 1970’s as a replacement for the cognitive styles. Activity in the learning styles field has been so strong that some 21 different models have been developed (Curry, 1983). Kolb’s Experimental Learning Model (ELM) is one of the most popular and utilized learning models today. ELM has attracted a wide audience as well as application.

His model is founded on Jung’s concept of types or styles through which the individual develops by using higher level of integration and expression of non-dominant modes of dealing with the world (Kolb, 1994). Experience is formed into concepts that guide the choice of new experiences. Kolb’s model reflects two dimensions based on (a) perceiving , which involves concrete experience (feeling) and abstract conceptualization (thinking), and (b) processing, which involves active experimentation (doing) and reflective observation (watching) (Robert Loo, 2002).

These two dimensions form the following four quadrants reflecting four learning styles: accommodator, diverger, assimilator, and converger (Robert Loo, 2002). FIGURE 1. Kolb’s Two–Dimensional Learning Model and Four Learning Styles Accommodator Diverger Converger Assimilator Concrete Experience Active Experimentation Reflective Observation Abstract Conceptualization Accommodators are described as “hands on” or “gut feelings, divergers deal best with concrete situations, assimilators understand a wide range of information, and convergers are best at finding practical uses for ideas (Kolb, 1994).

As more adults are participating in learning activities, adults are beginning to seek ways to improve their learning experiences. One way in which adult learners are achieving these goals is to familiarize themselves with their individual learning styles. How do adult learners identify their personal learning style? Many have been interested in how one learns. Even before the 1970’s, scholars have known that matching teaching styles and learning styles would result in improved grades, which logically reflect greater learning. Understanding ones learning style can lead to successful learning for all learners.

Over the past fifty years researchers have learned a great deal about learning styles and how to identify them. Adult learners can improve test scores and increase content knowledge by identifying styles. Dunn and Dunn (1992) demonstrate that when students are taught using their preferred learning styles, the show increased academic achievement and improved attitudes toward instruction than when they are taught using their non-preferred style (Joseph Pitts, 2009). The problem has been that instruments are often time consuming in administering, scoring, and implementing.

Research on learning and cognitive styles evolved from psychological research on individual differences (Curry, 1987). In the process, scholars began to develop inventories and other measures to identify the learning styles they discovered (Joseph Pitts, 2009). In the early 90’s more than thirty published instruments that assess the dimensions of learning styles were in use. In order for adult learners to identify their learning style they most use a valid learning style inventory. There is a multitude of learning inventories. Many are composed of self-report rank ordered questions.

For example, Curry (1987) organized a three-layer system composed of twenty one learning styles. The first level focuses on learning behavior, the second level centers on information-processing dimensions, and the third presents instructional preferences. TABLE 1. Curry’s Classification System of Learning Styles Instruments| Level| Author| Instrument| 1. Instructional and environmental preferences| Canfield and LaffertyDunn, Dunn, and PriceFriedman and Stricter| Learning Styles InventoryLeaning Style InventoryInstructional Preferences| 2.

Information-processing preferences| BiggsEndwise and RamsdenHuntKolb| Study Process QuestionnaireApproaches to StudyingParagraph Completion MethodLearning Styles Inventory| 3. Personality-related preferences| KaganMyersWitkin| Matching Familiar Figures TestMyer-Briggs Type IndicatorEmbedded Figures Test| Source: Curry 1987 Dunn et al. (1992) classified individuals as analytical or global learners that analytical learners are more successful when information is presented step-by-step in a cumulative, sequential pattern that builds towards conceptual understanding (i. e. , a part-to-whole pattern of learning).

These individuals prefer to learn in a quiet, well-illuminated, formal setting: often have a strong emotional need to complete tasks; like to learn alone or one-on-one with a teacher; prefer highly structured assignments; and rarely eat, drink, smoke, chew, or bite on objects while learning. Global learners have the opposite set of characteristics, learning more easily when they master a concept first and then concentrate better with distractors such as sound, soft lighting, and informal seating arrangement and some form of intake (e. g. eating or drinking).

They take frequent breaks by studying and often work on several tasks simultaneously. Global learners prefer to work with their peers and structure tasks in their own way. In conclusion, many adults for different reasons are choosing to return to some form of educational activity. Some are motivated because of social relationships, personal advancement, or cognitive interest, but whatever the reasons, adults should be prepared for the journey. Adults can prepare by knowing the process of adult learning, identifying the types of learning styles, and identifying one’s own style.

Reference Page Londell D. Jackson (2006). Revisiting Adult Learning Theory through the Lens of an Adult Learner. Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork (2009). Learning Styles, Concepts and Evidence. University of California, San Diego, Washington University in St Louis, University of South Florida, and University of California, Las Angeles. Joseph Pitts (2009). Identifying and Using a Teacher Friendly Learning-Styles Instrument. Sally Russell (2006). An Overview of Adult-Learning Processes. Urological Nursing.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 7 October 2016

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