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Principles of Adult Learning

Principles of Adult Learning

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Published by: api-26005993 on Dec 24, 2009
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By Stephen LiebSenior Technical Writer and Planner, Arizona Department of Health Servicesand part-time Instructor, South Mountain Community Collegefrom VISION, Fall 1991
Adults As Learners
Part of being an effective instructor involves understanding howadults learn best. Compared to children and teens, adults havespecial needs and requirements as learners. Despite the apparenttruth, adult learning is a relatively new area of study. Thefield of adult learning was pioneered by Malcom Knowles. Heidentified the following characteristics of adult learners:
Adults are
They need to befree to direct themselves. Their teachers must activelyinvolve adult participants in the learning process andserve as facilitators for them. Specifically, they must getparticipants' perspectives about what topics to cover andlet them work on projects that reflect their interests.They should allow the participants to assume responsibilityfor presentations and group leadership. They have to besure to act as facilitators, guiding participants to theirown knowledge rather than supplying them with facts.Finally, they must show participants how the class willhelp them reach their goals (e.g., via a personal goalssheet).
Adults have accumulated a foundation of
life experiences
that may include work-related activities,family responsibilities, and previous education. They needto connect learning to this knowledge/experience base. Tohelp them do so, they should draw out participants'experience and knowledge which is relevant to the topic.They must relate theories and concepts to the participantsand recognize the value of experience in learning.
Adults are
. Upon enrolling in a course, theyusually know what goal they want to attain. They,therefore, appreciate an educational program that isorganized and has clearly defined elements. Instructorsmust show participants how this class will help them attaintheir goals. This classification of goals and courseobjectives must be done early in the course.
Adults are
. They must see a reason forlearning something. Learning has to be applicable to theirwork or other responsibilities to be of value to them.Therefore, instructors must identify objectives for adultparticipants before the course begins. This means, also,that theories and concepts must be related to a settingfamiliar to participants. This need can be fulfilled byletting participants choose projects that reflect their owninterests.
Adults are
, focusing on the aspects of a lessonmost useful to them in their work. They may not beinterested in knowledge for its own sake. Instructors musttell participants explicitly how the lesson will be usefulto them on the job.
As do all learners, adults need to be shown
.Instructors must acknowledge the wealth of experiences thatadult participants bring to the classroom. These adultsshould be treated as equals in experience and knowledge andallowed to voice their opinions freely in class.
Motivating the Adult Learner
Another aspect of adult learning is motivation. At least sixfactors serve as sources of motivation for adult learning:
Social relationships:
to make new friends, to meet a needfor associations and friendships.
External expectations:
to comply with instructions fromsomeone else; to fulfill the expectations orrecommendations of someone with formal authority.
Social welfare:
to improve ability to serve mankind,prepare for service to the community, and improve abilityto participate in community work.
Personal advancement:
to achieve higher status in a job,secure professional advancement, and stay abreast ofcompetitors.
to relieve boredom, provide a break inthe routine of home or work, and provide a contrast toother exacting details of life.
Cognitive interest:
to learn for the sake of learning, seekknowledge for its own sake, and to satisfy an inquiringmind.
Barriers and Motivation
Unlike children and teenagers, adults have many responsibilities
that they must balance against the demands of learning. Becauseof these responsibilities, adults have
barriers against participating in learning
. Some of these barriers include lackof time, money, confidence, or interest, lack of informationabout opportunities to learn, scheduling problems, "red tape,"and problems with child care and transportation.
Motivation factors
can also be a barrier. What motivates adultlearners? Typical motivations include a requirement forcompetence or licensing, an expected (or realized) promotion,job enrichment, a need to maintain old skills or learn new ones,a need to adapt to job changes, or the need to learn in order tocomply with company directives.The best way to motivate adult learners is simply to
their reasons for enrolling and
the barriers.Instructors must learn why their students are enrolled (themotivators); they have to discover what is keeping them fromlearning. Then the instructors must plan their motivatingstrategies. A successful strategy includes showing adultlearners the relationship between training and an expectedpromotion.
Learning Tips for Effective Instructors
Educators must remember that learning occurs within eachindividual as a continual process throughout life. People learnat different speeds, so it is natural for them to be anxious ornervous when faced with a learning situation. Positivereinforcement by the instructor can enhance learning, as canproper timing of the instruction.Learning results from stimulation of the senses. In some people,one sense is used more than others to learn or recallinformation. Instructors should present materials thatstimulates as many senses as possible in order to increase theirchances of teaching success.There are four critical elements of learning that must beaddressed to ensure that participants learn. These elements are

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