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HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 How Adults Learn Adults have a greater depth of life

experience, more sophisticated cognitive abilities,

more clearly defined social roles, and more internalized motivation than children, necessitating a specialized learning methodology in contrast to pedagogy, which is child-centric (Connor, 2010). This paper will investigate a myriad of theories and methods impacting how adults learn through the following lenses: adult learning theory, adult development and learning, wisdom and learning, adult learning models, modern approaches to adult learning, and non-Western perspectives on adult learning. A conclusion will reflect on implications of the various ways adults learn on my future as an adult education professional. Adult Learning Theory Knowles theory of Andragogy asserts that adult learn differently than children (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 83). One excellent example of this distinction is the learning of language. Since I am taking this course in fulfillment of a Graduate Certificate in Teaching Adults English as a Second Language, I will focus on my own experience learning languages. I struggled learning Spanish as a second language in High School perhaps because I had a difficult time integrating it into my self-identity, which had no cultural connection to the language. In college I chose to study French, and again I struggled, particularly with pronunciation and spelling, and was at risk of failing. Then I experienced a breakthrough: I chose to imitate French speakers, much like an actor mimics a foreign character. This would suggest that I learn best from observation and modeling, following the social cognitivist approach (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 288). But I believe that by acting the role of the language, I was successfully integrating the knowledge into my sociocultural identity in the vein of Vygotskys theories of language development and constructivist learning theory (Merriam, et al, p. 292).

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 I believe motivation is a major factor in adult learning, and I agree with Malcolm Knowles that internal sources of motivation are much stronger than external ones (cited in Merriam, et al, p. 84). While children appear to respond well to cues for outside approval, from parents, teachers, and peers; adults, due to an elevation of their perceived needs as outlined by Maslow (cited in Merriam, et al, p. 282), respond better to personally set goals in order to achieve self-actualization. The reason I cite motivation as a major factor is because learning a second language is perceived to be especially difficult for adult learners, and due to competing

drains on an adults time and resources, as illustrated by McCluskys Theory of Margin (cited in Merriam, et al, pp. 93-94), achievement relies heavily on self-motivation. Therefore I concur with Knowles principle of andragogy that adults thrive on self-direction. I also agree with his assertion that adults need to know why something is important to learn (Ibid, p. 84). I believe this is due partially to an advanced ability for abstract thought (per cognitive learning theory). Of greater significance, I believe it is an outcome of adults need to find meaningful connections in order to integrate new information into a well-developed established schema, more along the lines of constructivist learning theory (Ibid, p. 293). After college, I successfully taught myself several languages, including Czech, Japanese, and Thai, and have followed a similar approach to each. While my methods involved a substantial amount of rote learning, memorization, and repetition, stalwarts of behaviorist learning theory (Ibid, pp. 278-281), and mimicry, an attribute of social cognitivism, the key to my approach is constructivist. I look for patterns in the second language (L2) that I can relate to my first language (L1) and then learn and repeat phrases I intend to actually use. Then I build upon those patterns and phrases to form more complex sentences. I enhance motivation by putting myself in situations whereby I am forced to use the language I have practiced. This

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 fosters a trait called willingness to communicate (MacIntyre, Baker, Clement, & Conrad, 2001) that facilitates integrating the L2 into my sociocultural identity. Of all of the theories I have examined, the one that most closely relates to my personal learning processes is Illeris Three Dimensions of Learning Model (Merriam, et al, pp. 97-100). Cognition, including memorization and rehearsal, works with emotion aspects to develop understanding which is then integrated into my self-identity. However, due to a difference in emphasis, I would replace emotion with motivation and sociality with identity. Therefore a simplified version of my customized model would be: COGNITION ----------------------------------- MOTIVATION | | \/ IDENTITY Malcolm Knowles assumption that an adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience, which is a rich resource for learning (cited in Merriam, et al, 2007, p. 84) sparks a considerable area of debate in the field of linguistics pertaining to Robert Lados Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (1957) which suggests that Second Language Acquisition (SLA) may be inhibited by contrasts with the learners first language (L1), following in the footsteps of behaviorist learning theory. This would appear to support the contention of authors Mirriam, Mott, and Lee (cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 86) that certain life experiences can function as barriers to learning. While largely unsubstantiated via research, Lados ideas have nonetheless been influential in SLA. Proponents of Selinkers theory of Interlanguage (1972) would argue that in addition to potential negative transfer effects of a learners L1, there are corresponding

positive transfer effects. The latter is especially significant for linguists who subscribe to Norm Chomskys theory of a Universal Grammar that all languages share (1957).

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 In addition to having achieved a higher level of cognitive development, as described by Piaget (1958), having a vaster body of experience is undeniably the greatest difference between child and adult learners. Effectively teaching adult learners therefore involves leveraging their advanced ability in information processing as well as integrating prior knowledge, principles

supported in cognitive learning theory. And yet one cannot ignore the socio-cultural implications as well, as adults greater pool of experience necessitates assimilating new concepts into a vastly richer schema as supported by constructivist learning theory. By methodically scaffolding new concepts upon prior knowledge, teachers can effectively draw from adult learners experiences. Adult Development and Learning How do changes adults experience as they age affect learning? This question is examined from both biological and psychosocial perspectives. A follow up question asks whether intelligence factors with age. Biological. The biological approach to adult learning invokes the subject of brain plasticity as it relates to Second Language Acquisition (SLA). First suggested by Wilder Penfield (Penfield & Roberts, 1959) and elaborated upon by Eric Lenneberg in his book, Biological Foundations of Language (1967), the Critical Period Hypothesis states that if a first language is not acquired before puberty that mastery is unachievable due to reduction of the brains neuroplasticity. These ideas were supported in part by observations of feral children who failed to successfully acquire language without social interaction in early childhood. While no physiological limitation has been proven that limits adults in SLA, examples of those who have achieved native-like proficiency are few and far between (Brown, 1994). Even if one subscribes to the concept of maturing plasticity of the brain (Merriam et al, 2007, p. 304) one cannot argue that the perceived

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171

effort required in SLA increases with increasing age. Combined with natural deterioration of the senses (Ibid, p. 302), this presents a formidable obstacle for the adult instructor. Having taught computer classes for senior citizens, I am sensitive to elder learners need for repetition, clear sound, and larger visuals. Psychosocial. Psychological factors impacting adult learning are not characterized by physical limitations but rather as expressions of motivation. This subject has been thoroughly researched in the area of SLA through the work of Robert Gardner and Associates (1985), who correlate success with having a positive self-identity; partially influenced by environment. Using Eriksons Stages of Psychosocial Development (1963; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 306) one can estimate that experiencing identity confusion at any stage could provide an obstacle to learning. Under this model, one could say that I have fallen behind in the Intimacy vs Isolation stage because I remain single and childless; and that I am currently in the Generativity vs Stagnation stage. How does this affect my capacity to learn? Feelings of isolation may have been compensated for by classroom interaction. This is something to be aware of as I transition to online classes deficient in social interaction. Thoughts of my place in society are likely the source of my desire to change careers and study Teaching Adults English as a Second Language, thus fueling my motivation to learn. Because I am soon planning to relocate and get married, I may also be experiencing a transitional period according to Levinson (1996; 1978; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, pp. 307-8) which may in turn provide me with a teachable moment (Havinghurst, 1972; Knowles, 1980; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 308). In anticipation of this life event, my motivation to learn is possibly augmented. However, were I to delay completion of

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 my degree until after I was married, the combination of stresses may prove to be a deterrent due to a transition in my sociocultural role (Ibid, p. 313-14). Learning language and social-cultural identity are interrelated, as referenced in Lev Vygotskys seminal work Thought and Language (1986), where he suggests that all learning begins first as a social activity which is then internalized. The motivating factor for many adult students in SLA is role-based; be they advanced students, skilled workers, or world travelers. Accommodating these learners is the rationale for English for Specific Purposes classes. While

integrating the various factors presented may be the obvious approach, I am concerned that doing so overgeneralizes and dilutes practical learning theory. Alternatively, I suggest creating a demographic profile of the target learner that summarizes the attributes of the best models, including those of Piaget, Erikson, and Vygotsky, allowing the instructor to guide learners towards adopting learning strategies that best suit their needs and ensure that a healthy variety of learning styles are accommodated in the classroom. Intelligence. A few years ago I felt indications of physical aging and started wearing reading glasses. Now approaching 50, I have noticed changes in my sleep pattern as well as some occasional aches and pains. Upon reentering school, I have also noticed a change in my memory. I had to look up references more often and create mental reminders for categorizing and recalling facts. Unit recently, the age I perceived myself at, or mental age, was always about 20 years younger than my biological age; partly because I have baby face looks. But lately my social interactions have taken a more fatherly stance, and whereas before I viewed the majority of people as being older, now I view most others as being younger. Some would just equate that with maturity.

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 Twenty years ago I earned my M.Ed. with a straight-A average. Returning to school, I doubted I could maintain my average; yet surprisingly, I have. This provides longitudinal evidence (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 369) of no decline in intelligence. Changing careers from teaching computers to teaching English also demonstrates my brains

plasticity (Ibid, pp. 368-9). However, I perceive that my mental effort is greater now than before. Perhaps my accomplishment is better attributed to compensation (Ibid, p. 368). I concur with Dixons observations (2003; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 368) that loss of plasticity can be correlated with disuse. By returning to school, I may have re-stimulated my brains plasticity, a concept supported by Michael Merzenich (Mahncke, Bronstone, & Merzenich, 2006). And I credit a third factor: despite being much older, my learning strategies had not changed. My skills in note-taking, organizing data, research, and memorization which were proven to be so effective have served me well again upon returning to school. Taking a multifactorial view of intelligence, my fluid intelligence, demonstrated by learning a new major, was assisted by my crystallized intelligence, consisting of previously learned study strategies (Horn & Cattell, 1966; 1967; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 363). According to Stenberg (2000; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, pp. 377-380) my accomplishment may be an indication of practical intelligence in that I used my previous schooling experience to succeed in a new setting. The nature vs. nurture debate regarding intelligence is ongoing. I believe I inherited some forms of intelligence. Using Howard Gardners Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1993; cited in Merriam et al, p. 374-77), I likely inherited musical intelligence from my mother (who played piano) and spatial intelligence from my father (who was a mechanic), and verbal from both (they were great orators). On the other hand, I most likely learned the interpersonal skills required in teaching from my parents growing up. Due to a high I.Q., I was placed in advanced classes in

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 school. But I agree with Serpells criticisms (2000; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 395) of standardized testing as a measurement of intelligence in favor of a more holistic model such as Sternbergs practical intelligence (2000; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, pp. 377-80). While traditional I.Q. tests may be a good measurement of general intelligence (Jensen, 2002; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 362), including analytical ability, considered to be universal in Sternbergs model; I have often been criticized for lacking street smarts, a quality lost in traditional testing yet measured in Sternbergs model under experiential and contextual.

Perhaps if I had been evaluated under Sternbergs model, rather than emphasizing my advantage in componential abilities, more support could have been provided to overcome deficiencies in the other areas. Wisdom and Learning Learned denotes being knowledgeable, and there are many ways to measure knowledge. But we have yet to develop a single tool to test for wisdom, as described by Dr. Louis Cozdino (2011). Wisdom is not quantifiable, but it is qualifiable, as anyone can give you the name of someone who is wise even if they cant exactly define what wisdom is. There is a difficult-tomeasure social aspect to wisdom that also depends on the situation at-hand and the use of applied knowledge (Cozdino, 2011). Considering that wisdom is offered as a topic in cognitive development, wisdom must entail more than simply the accumulation of facts; it must represent a higher level of cognitive processing tied to individual growth and maturity: what neoPiagetians call the stage of postformal thought (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 327). If wisdom is a step in cognitive development, as may be suggested in Piagets model (Ibid, p. 326), it is more like a switch. If wisdom is a position or schema, as in Perrys model (Ibid, p. 329) then perhaps it can change and grow over time. I prefer to view it as a step that I

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 have yet to achieve; however, I can discuss how I have progressed towards achieving that step.

As a child, I was tested with a high I.Q. and placed in advanced classes. Although I wrote poetry that showed flashes of wisdom beyond my years, my short life experience limited the range of my writing. While I achieved excellent grades and graduated High School early, it was during my teen years that I discovered a deficit in my street smarts, evidenced by numerous altercations with the police due to my driving habits. Why would I exhibit less experiential knowledge compared to my peers? I believe this is an outcome of having been raised in a somewhat sheltered environment. Certainly, my Buddhist teacher is the wisest man I have known, although he would deny the accolade. He is the epitome of wisdom and humility. Buddhism teaches relativistic thinking in addition to concentration, reflection, regulating negative emotions, and compassion. During five years of practice, my position indeed shifted. In addition, I have demonstrated attributes of dialectical thinking (Ibid, p. 342) and shades of wisdom. I currently believe in the Jungian view that the penultimate human goal is spirituality-based (Jung, 1955); what Washburn may describe as a transcendent perspective (2000; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, pp. 340-41). Wisdom was described by Dr. Louis Cozdino (2011) as the ability to apply knowledge in problem-solving complex social situations. Thus the attribute of wisdom contains elements of both cognitive development and experiential knowledge. I believe that when both thresholds are met the characteristics of wisdom are revealed. The schema that embodies the cognitive abilities associated with wisdom is best described as transcendent, thinking beyond the self and exhibiting enhanced awareness (Washburn, 2000; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 341). And my experience leads me to believe that the most identifiable pathway towards this goal is spiritual development. The type of religious practice is not significant so long as it is existential

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 in nature. After all, as the Buddha said, there are 84,000 different paths to enlightenment (Bukky Dend Kykai, 2005, p. 314). That is also not to say that atheists cannot cultivate


wisdom, because spirituality is not exclusive to organized religion, as evidenced by The Center for Spiritual Atheism (Sorensen, 2012). Regarding the question of whether Buddhist practices such as meditation can change how the mind works (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 418), James Shreeve (2005) presents an exhaustive overview of the history of mapping the brain as well as modern techniques using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in National Geographic. However, although cited in Learning in Adulthood, Shreeves work does not address the effects of religious practice on brain development, a relatively newly coined scientific study called neurotheology. One of the leading researchers of spiritual neuroscience and author of the book Principles of Neurotheology, Dr. Andrew Newburg, summarized his findings after scanning the brains of participants praying and meditating in an interview on National Public Radios Talk of the Nation (Conan & Newburg, 2010). He detected short and long-term changes in the brain after momentary and repeated meditative practices. In particular, he found increased activity in the thalamus, an area that constructs our perception of reality. He cites a study of memory loss sufferers that showed measurable improvement after only eight weeks of 12 minutes a day meditative mantra practice (Newberg, Wintering, Khalsa, Roggenkamp, & Waldman, 2010). From my own Buddhist practice over the last eight years, I have observed that in addition to the aforementioned physiological effects, meditative practices also assist in developing concentration, self-reflection, insight, awareness, tranquility, and compassion. As these are attributes also used to describe higher-order cognitive function and wisdom (Merriam et al, pp.

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 351-57), I am convinced that meditative techniques can be utilized for the benefit of adult learners. Adult Learning Models One means to examine various adult learning models is through the analysis of modern motion picture storytelling techniques. The typical Hollywood story involves a hero (or protagonist) involved in archetypal conflict; such as: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature or


Man vs. Himself (Egri, 2007). In resolving the conflict, the main character always experiences learning. It may be experiential in the constructivist mode, such as Yoda teaching Luke Skywalker the ways of the force in Star Wars. Or situated experiential, such as grooming a young Oliver Twist to favor pickpocketing. Or psychoanalytic, as was the learning undertaken in Good Will Hunting. Sometimes the learning is self-directed and linear, such as a single fathers plan to overcome poverty in The Pursuit of Happyness; or seemingly unplanned and interactive, such as the life story of the main character in Forrest Gump. However, irregardless of the plot, at the climax of the story the hero always undergoes character development in the form of transformational learning, experiencing a shift in their schema or worldview, which enables them to overcome the conflict (Ibid, 2007). Luke Skywalker learns to trust himself (psychocritical); Oliver Twist discovers self-importance amongst social outcasts (socialemancipatory); Forrest Gump unfetters his self-image from invalid to someone who can accomplish great things (psychodevelopmental). Take for example the film My Fair Lady (1964; produced by Jack L. Warner and James C. Katz for Warner Brothers; written by Alan Jay Lerner with music by Frederick Loewe, based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.) Like most films, the climax sees the main character experiencing a major shift in the way they view themselves and the world (Merriam,

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 130). Here the main character, Eliza Dolittle, realizes she


has self-value far beyond her meager life as a flower girl and can forge her own destiny without the provocation of men. The story makes the learning context clear: Professor Henry Higgins intends to win a bet that he can fool the gentry into accepting a lower-class Cockney girl simply by altering her speech. His methods are teacher-centered, didactic, and behaviorist. The transformational learning outcome is actually an unintended result of his student, Eliza, experiencing success living in a new environment and applying the learning strategies she acquired in new situations. This may be a result of Professor Higgins unwittingly employing techniques in experiential learning by allowing Eliza to interact with her new environment by sharing his upper-class home with her and leaving her alone to reflect for long periods. Thus the two ingredients for experiential learning as defined by Dewey (1938; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 162): continuity and interaction are satisfied. On the contrary, since the learning was inexplicit, one may view it as being self-directed, where the learner utilizes random life events to discern new meaning (Spear, 1988; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 112). However consider Mezirows description of transformational learning which utilizes aspects of all three learning modes: The learner must critically self-examine the assumptions and beliefs that have structured how the experience has been interpreted (Mezirow, 1981; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 124). Which model of learning best describes that experienced by Eliza Doolittle? The conclusion begging for revelation is that people experience a mix of learning conditions in any learning situation. According to authors Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007, p. 79): learning on ones own is the way most adults go about acquiring new ideas, skills, and attitudes. Yet the authors also agree that transformational learning is the mental construction of experience, inner meaning, and reflection (Ibid, p. 130). And as Dewey (1938; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p.

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 162) famously stated: all genuine education comes about through experience. How can all these statements be correct? Because adults exercise all three modes of learning I suggest we


must examine the intended process, and in the case of My Fair Lady, the process is experiential. All the while she diligently repeats the taught speech sounds, Eliza is experiencing a new environment that is conscious-raising and empowering that leads her to newfound independence. That people learn from a mixed variety of learning modes and the most powerful transformations may happen suddenly and unexpectedly is supported by the learning experiences shared in a personal interview I conducted with Eric, an adult student I encountered in a church class in metaphysics. He reported his most dramatic learning experience was getting arrested, hardly an instructional event, and subsequently seeing a flash of white light that illuminated his spirit. From that time on he dedicated himself to seeking self-actualization and living in the moment. His transformation led him on a self-directed search for truth and healing, the most important lesson being living in the now. In his search, some of which was planned and linear (Tough, 1967, 1971, 1979; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 110) and some of which was unplanned and non-linear (Spear, 1988; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 112), he sought out many different learning sources and teachers, from which he learned meditation and the power of healing. He cited one teacher that taught him how to mentally heal chronic pain he suffered since childhood. While this may infer a non-autonomous type of learning, the teacher did not instruct a predetermined method but rather encouraged Eric to discover his own method of self-healing, unquestionably a self-directed technique. Modern Approaches to Adult Learning Critical theory provides educators with a means to question the efficacy of educational institutions in providing for diverse student populations with regard to race, class, and gender

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171


(Merriam et al, 2007, pp. 241-43). Postmodernism suggests a flexible and integrative educational model that advances unity over ideology (Ibid, pp. 259-60). In regards to teaching English as a Second Language, identity integration is a critical motivational factor (Masgoret & Gardner, 2003). In order to avoid resistance to integration, it is important to first acknowledge individuality and cultural uniqueness. However, my goal as an educator is not to encourage separateness but rather to merge students individuality with a new sociocultural identity that integrates English. I accomplish this through communicative and interactive classroom activities. Some students resist this change and only want to work with students with the same background. But by fostering a classroom culture that supports one another and emphasizes teamwork, breakthroughs are achieved through positive and rewarding outcomes. Teachers need to be aware of both their own perceptions of students identities and how students will perceive each other in relation to race, socioeconomic status, and gender. It is important for the teacher to view their own thought process critically, and be an agent for student growth and not party to an institutionalized educational system that is designed to maintain the status quo (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 253). As Anne Campell so clearly pointed out in her article Cultural identity as a social construct (2000), superficially recognizing diversity is unproductive if the dominant culture simultaneously labels others as disadvantaged, what Collard disparagingly refers to as old elitism under the guise of a communicative ethic (1995; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 258). Similarly, the teacher needs to be aware of how students perceive each other and strive to elevate their understanding to a level that is equally emancipatory (Merriam et al, 2007, p. 251). Mezirows transformative learning theory utilizes authentic discourse to set aside bias, prejudice, and personal concerns in order to achieve a consensus (1995; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 255).

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171


Implementing noted scholar Stephen Brookfields learning tasks (2005; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, pp. 257-58), a teacher may include classroom activities that recognize and challenge students ideas, social status, sense of liberty, fairness, and values. In addition, according to feminist pedagogy, institutional education has traditionally favored male students (Merriam et al, 2007, p 263), and therefore teachers need to be cognizant of maintaining balance in classroom interaction. Malcolm Knowles states in his theory of andragogy that adult learning trends towards self-directed activities (1980; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 84). Brookfield (1993; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 109) adds that self-directed learning is only successful where institutions shift political control to learners, especially in regards to non-privileged groups. Teachers can implement this on a small scale by shifting focus from a teacher-centered classroom to a studentcentered environment. Mattias Finger contrasts teaching preconceived solutions with collaborative, vertical, horizontal, and cross-disciplinary learning (1995; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 261). While founded in critical theory, this approach is indicative of a postmodernism, where classrooms develop a fluid, collective identity (Merriam et al, 2007, p. 259). Teaching teamwork is one means to foster collaboration in the classroom and practice social skills (Brown, 2007). While self-directed learning evokes a sense of individualistic autonomy, the model by no means suggests that learning is a solitary process. Lev Vygotsky (1986) describes all learning as a social activity. If Brookfield (1986) is correct in his assumption that in order to engage in self-directed learning, students need to learn how to learn, then the most effective way to produce life-long learners is to diffuse discrete identities in favor of a united postmodern identity that cooperatively supports learning.

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 Non-Western Perspectives on Adult Learning My first experience with non-Western education was a job as a teaching assistant at a High School for Hawaiians just three months after I had moved from the Chicago area. I had been involved in public education for about five years, having taught television production at numerous public television stations and community centers. I had a reputation as a gentle and patient teacher. One day I caught a student blowing into a microphone, which can damage the


sensitive metallic ribbon inside, and the student cried: why are you yelling at me? In my mind, I wasnt yelling at all, but I was unaware that my Chicago voice was much louder than what locals were used to and that Hawaiians were offended if confronted directly. That was my first experience of Asian culture. It took me several years to learn to speak softly and provide corrections indirectly. The text Learning in Adulthood (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007) addresses non-Western education from two perspectives applicable to learners in Hawaii: Confucianism, which was brought by Chinese immigrants; and Maori, which shares an indigenous Pacific Islander culture with native Hawaiians. Influential cultures which are not addressed in the book are: Buddhism brought by Japanese immigrants, the Catholic-Spanish influenced island nation of the Philippines, and the considerable influence of the New England Missionaries who were responsible for both introducing formal education and written language to Hawaii. My personal perspective on education, which was rooted in the classical Greek tradition (Nisbett, 2003; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 222) was strongly altered and influenced by my experiences teaching and attending graduate courses at the University of Hawaii. My previously ethnocentric (Reagan, 2005; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 219) attitude was expanded to include Confucian concepts such as: teaching the whole person rather than just training their minds, emphasizing

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 the importance of family and society over individual achievement, and facilitating both skill development and spiritual development (Merriam et al, 2007, p. 227). Unfortunately, societal respect for the teacher was not a characteristic transferred from Asia, perhaps due to


compounded animosity towards formal education brought about by Christian missionaries who were responsible for the desecration of native Hawaiian culture through the banning of hula and kapu, the indigenous religion. Anthropologists concede a shared link between the ancestry and culture of Pacific Islanders, including the Maori of New Zealand. Like the Maoris, Hawaiians have also struggled for self-determination after years of being subservient to a dominant culture and oppressive power relations (Findsen; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 231). Unlike the dissolution of the extended family happening on the Mainland (the Continental United States), locals (Hawaiian population) are highly reliant on their ancestral family for knowledge and support. Just as the Maori share indigenous knowledge and strengthen cultural traditions through hui, Hawaiians accomplish this through a similar tradition called hooponopono (Shook, 1985). Not mentioned in the text is the Pacific Islander tradition of sharing knowledge through storytelling: in music, dance, and art; as well as oral. The process is not unlike the sharing of indigenous knowledge described in African education (Merriam et al, 2007, p. 236). I have found that the use of storytelling via educational media not only accommodates multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1993; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 374) and learning styles (Anderson, 1988; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 408); but also serves the purpose of adapting to different ethnic groups, with different cultural histories (Anderson, 1988, p. 4).

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 Reflection In describing andragogy, Knowles (cited in Merriam, et al, p. 84) assumes that adults self-identities are more self-directing, that readiness to learn is tied to their social role and that the most potent motivations are internally focused. Motivation to learn language is enhanced when adult learners are in a supportive and respectful learning environment.


Recognizing their adultness is paramount to fostering willingness to communicate because due to their limited vocabulary and experience, L2 learners suffer anxiety over sounding childish. In the same vein, I have witnessed elevated motivation when students are provided choices regarding how they will learn. Students take ownership of the learning process and invest more in the lesson even if the choices are minor. Like many teachers trained in America, my classes tend to be too teacher-focused; a complaint made by Marcia Conner in her article Andragogy and Pedagogy (2010). Therefore I endeavor to empower my adult students to be co-creators of their learning environment. Regarding learners social roles, while some teachers attempt to align students with their societal role, such as college student or international businessman, I aim for a more integrative approach (Masgoret & Gardner, 2003). My goal is not to encourage development of an English-speaking identity that is separate from their L1 identity, but rather to facilitate a merger of their L1 and L2 identities. I believe one way to accomplish this is to get students to express themselves naturally using L2, exhibiting the same personality, preferences, and social roles as they do when speaking their native language. This can be difficult, as students have to overcome their inhibitions, but I believe it contributes towards strengthening their willingness to communicate. Regarding internally-based motivation, I have observed that not all students learn English because they want to. Some are required to learn it as part of their education or vocation. As I experienced myself when first learning a second language, misplaced

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171


motivation can make second language acquisition a struggle. In line with Knowles assumption regarding motivation, helping learners discover a personal justification for learning a second language will have a positive effect on achievement. I can accomplish this by creating activities that reinforce speaking English as a self-rewarding activity that is enjoyable, beneficial, and creative. I believe I have witnessed the result of successful transference of motivation upon observing students who share the same L1 conversing with each other in 'small talk' using their L2, laughing and sharing. Here they are not using English to solve a school lesson or practice a job skill, but to satisfy a personal desire to communicate. That is the true purpose of any language. In my English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, I spend the greatest amount of class time with integrative and motivational activities, including creating situations involving artificial anxiety in order to strengthen communicative willingness. I accomplish this by including tasks that require self-discovery and improvisation, such as cognitive problem-solving and role-play activities. This can be disconcerting to some students who are more familiar with behaviorist techniques such as rote repetition and gap-fill exercises that elicit a single 'correct' answer. While my methods are primarily self-derived, I am gratified to see them validated by the principles espoused in constructivist learning theory as well as Knowles assumptions about andragogy. As demonstrated in my personal example of adult development, I was able to maintain the same level of achievement in higher education over a twenty year span, yet my perceived effort was greater. This may be attributed to physical decline; however, I was able to use my knowledge and experience to adapt (Merriam et al, 2007, p. 368). While I may have lost some brain plasticity during the intervening years, I successfully revived neuroplasticity as a result of reentering school. When teaching older adults, instructors need to be aware of physical decline

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 and accommodate sensory disabilities. However, one should not overcompensate and risk alienating seniors because they also have the capacity to compensate. In addition, adaptive


technology is standard in modern classrooms. While loss of brain plasticity may be a concern, it is possible to re-stimulate this function through neural exercise. Continued study of Merzenrichs research will benefit my teaching as a greater number of elder adults seek retraining in the workforce. Regarding SLA, it is an accepted theory that adults are deterred from achieving native-like fluency after the critical period culminating at adolescence (Penfield & Roberts, 1959; Lenneberg, 1967), although the exact cause is not understood. As an instructor, I can try to mitigate this effect by lowering expectations and by utilizing motivational strategies to elicit the additional effort required of adult learners. Children appear to learn naturally and effortlessly, progressing through gradually more advanced stages of cognitive development as observed by Piaget (Piaget & Inhelder, 1958), until reaching the Formal Operations Stage in adulthood, after which one appears to plateau. Whether this is due to an undiscovered biological switch, loss of brain plasticity, or socio-cultural factors, the instructor can mitigate the extra required effort using motivational techniques. I would estimate that I spend more than half of my class time with motivational activities. Psychological and sociocultural deterrents to learning can best be overcome through motivational techniques. Researcher James Paul Gee (1996) found a link between language use and social identity. Therefore, to facilitate internalized or integrative motivation towards SLA (Gardner, 1985), instruction can be geared towards the social role of the learner (Merriam et al, 2007, p. 314). Thus it would be beneficial for me to take inventory of my adult students social roles, pending life events, and transitions (Ibid, p. 314).

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171


Regarding intelligence, Howard Gardners Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1985; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, pp. 374-77) is a foundational model in instructional design, particularly as it applies to the different learning styles favored by learners. I prefer Neil Flemings simple VARK model: 1. visual learners, 2. auditory learners, 3. reading/writing preference learners, and 4. kinesthetic learners (Fleming & Mills, 1992). When time permits, I cater to the intelligence types and preferred learning styles of my students; but in general I find it more practical to simply present multisensory lessons to all classes, thus ensuring that individual learning styles are satisfied. When it comes to determining intelligence, I am impressed with Robert Sternbergs views on practical or tacit knowledge (2000; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 379). As a computer teacher, I emphasized practical knowledge over theory by integrating many hands-on exercises. As a language instructor, I still promote practical knowledge by including real-world exercises such as role-playing conversations, resume writing, and reading authentic materials such as newspapers. Unfortunately, the goal of some students is simply to pass an exam and receive certification. But lack of practical knowledge will deter students from using their second language in real-world contexts; which will not only inhibit mastery, but will also inhibit identity integration. Holistic Education, addressing the needs of the whole person was popularized in the Sixties and Seventies (I attended both Montessori school and an alternative school during my Elementary education). Teaching critical thinking skills became a buzzword in the 1980s following a National Commission on Excellence in Education report that warned that High School Graduates lacked the higher-order intellectual skills needed in the U.S. (Gardner, 1983). While I support these initiatives and dont discourage them, they are ancillary to my primary objectives as both a computer instructor and English instructor. Many perceive the role

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 of the college educator is to open minds and encourage higher-order thinking, and I would


admit that this is a role that I relish. However, more important is meeting the course objectives. If wisdom is the culmination of a lifetime of accumulated experience, I have very limited influence over its development. Therefore, I believe there are far more pressing questions for the adult educator. In terms of practical use, time constraints would hamper introduction of spiritual techniques into the classroom. However, I can cite one example of using religious practice to calm a particularly rambunctious class of teenagers in Thailand. At the start of class, I introduced silent meditation to lower their energy level. At another time when their hyperactivity level was particularly high, I introduced Tai Chi exercises to both consume and lower their energy. The results were mixed and their behavior continued to be difficult to manage; however, I would have continued to experiment with the practice if I had more support from the school administration. As previously stated, students gain knowledge from a combination of three modes of learning (self-directed, transformational, and experiential). And as evidenced by the film My Fair Lady as well as my own experience, the instructor should also be aware of possible unintended learning outcomes. My favorite teaching moment is when I see a flash of awareness in my students, what some call seeing the light bulb go off. It can happen anytime there is a teachable moment, even when you least expect it. Although not a primary objective in my classes, I endeavor to provide opportunities for students to develop lifelong learning strategies that will make them self-directed learners. Classroom time is limited, but by learning how to teach themselves, the world becomes their classroom. As opposed to simply teaching this is qualified as teaching how to learn (Brown, 2007). By transforming their schema to examine

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 the world critically, students can indeed make every life experience a learning experience. Unfortunately, many students in traditional education have not been explicitly taught learning


strategies and it is up to instructors to integrate them into lessons (Brown, 2007). My sentiments are best described by a proverb traditionally attributed to the Taoist teacher Lao Tzu but also ascribed to Victorian era author Anne Isabella Ritchie in her 1885 novel Mrs. Drymond: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. (Martin, 2013). While critical theory takes an individualistic view of social diversity, postmodernism takes an integrative view. My first encounter with people that Campbell (2000) would describe as bi-cultural code switchers was during my years at the University of Hawaii. As a result, I was made to feel quite homogenous, what Hawaiians call a haole. This led me to critically reexamine my cultural identity and investigate my Ukrainian ancestry. However, after decades living in Hawaii and witnessing its diverse cultures intermingle and interact, I have progressed to a more postmodern view. While social cliques still prefer their kind of music, food, or dialect; together we form a gestalt that is diverse, fluid, illusionary (Bagnall, 1995; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 259). This fits with my instructional methodology, which encourages students learning English as a second language to integrate their native language identity with their second language identity (Masgoret & Gardner, 2003). In my lessons, I would discourage code switching as indicative of maintaining separation. When I observe students using familiar phrases from their native language in an English conversation, then I know they have started to think in their second language, and that identity integration is taking place. Much like a football team, the classroom is a collection of uniquely talented individuals with diverse backgrounds; and yet in order to be successful, the collection of individuals must

HOW ADULTS LEARN Chris Khonngam EDUC 6171 work as a team in order to achieve a common goal. On a sports team, focusing on individuals disrupts unity; likewise, the new teacher should focus not on individual differences but instead celebrate our similarities in pursuit of the common good.


Non-Western style education bears many contrasts with traditional American education, including favoring holistic over cognitive instruction, communal versus individual focus, and emphasizing interdependency and informal learning (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 240). These contrasts are particularly evident when I am teaching a typical class of diverse students learning English as a Second Language who converge on Hawaii from across the globe, from China to Russia to Switzerland to Brazil. Not only is cultural sensitivity important in order to avoid accidentally offending a student, such as making direct eye-contact with a Japanese or not making eye-contact with a German; but also to accommodate different learning preferences. Despite volumes of research dedicated to the concept of individual learning styles, Sharan Merriam et al in Learning in Adulthood brusquely dismiss them as inapplicable to adult learners (Joughin, 1992; cited in Merriam et al, 2007, p. 406). While surgically criticizing cognitive styles due to the lack of a unifying theory (Merriam et al, 2007, p. 407), the authors fail to consider whether learning trends identified in childhood may indeed continue through adulthood. The contrasting learning customs evidenced in Non-Western Education supports the observations of James Anderson that the Euro-American style is projected by most institutions as the one which is most valued and yet has notable differences from the field-dependent, relational and holistic, and affective non-Western style (Anderson, 1988, p. 6). Perhaps in light of the increasing need for multicultural education in the face of escalating globalization, educators need to take a fresh look at the implications of particular learning styles for adult learners.

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