Principles Of Adult Learning

Principles Of Adult Learning
Written & Researched by: Ivan Teh RunningMan

Adult Learning Theory - Andragogy

The theory of adult learning, or andragogy, was developed by Malcolm Knowles. He proposed 6 assumptions in educating adults:

1. Adults need to know the reason for learning something (Need to Know).
Adult learners must know why they need to learn something before they become willing to learn it.

2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities (Foundation).
Prior experiences of the adult learner provide a rich resource for learning.

3. Adults are responsible for their decisions on education, and should be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (Self-Concept).
Involving adult learners in the learning process produces much more effective learning. Internal self realisation is more powerful than external lecturing.

4. Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work or personal lives (Readiness).
Adults typically become ready to learn when they experience a need to cope with a life situation or perform a task. The information received must be relevant, applicable or useful in some way.

5. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented (Orientation).
Adult learning is goal-oriented. The adult educator is not just a teacher or lecturer, but also a trainer (skills-based), and more importantly, a facilitator (character building, soft-skills, process-based). The adult educator is not a sage on the stage, but a guide from the side.

6. Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators (Motivation).
Adults who are willing to learn will learn regardless of situtation. No amount of external motivation will compel an adult to learn willingly, unless they choose to.


The Learning Paradigm

The old learning paradigm was about:
Minimal Competence
Cultivating a Fear of Failure
Individual Performance
Appraisal / Criticism
A Formal Learning Environment
Finding the Correct Answer
Top-Down, Directed Learning

The new learning paradigm is about:
Continuous Improvement
Team Performance
Cooperation / Collaboration
Coaching / Feedback
An Informal Learning Environment
Being Independent and Self-Driven


Experiential Learning Cycle

David A. Kolb proposed that learning is a process where knowledge is created through transformation of experience. The adult educator’s job is not only to impart new ideas, but also to modify old thinking that may prevent learning. He suggests 4 steps in the Experiential Learning Cycle:

Source Credits

1. Concrete Experience (Do) – being fully involved in here-and-now experiences.
Examples: Simulations, case studies, field trips, real experiences, demonstrations.

2. Reflective Observation (Observe) – reflecting on and observing the experiences from different perspectives.
Examples: Discussions, small groups, buzz groups, reflection time, designated observers.

3. Abstract Conceptualisation And Generalisation (Think) – concluding and drawing observations from the experiences to form logically sound theories.
Examples: Sharing content, lecturing, summarising.

4. Active Experimentation And Testing Of Implications (Plan) – using these theories to plan and make decisions or solve problems.
Examples: Laboratory experiences, on-the-job experiences, internships, practice sessions.

Thus, educating adults will involve:
1. A theoretical framework for experiential learning research
2. A practical model for experiential learning practice


The 4 Learning Styles

Therefore, people learn through a variety of ways. One person may learn better by listening; another may be visual or may prefer to read instructions; someone else may need a demonstration. Learning styles refer to the way in which a learner approaches and responds to a learning experience.  Note that no one learning style is right or even better than another. The point is that each person learns differently. A variety of learning styles will be represented in any training session. To be effective, adult educators must design their programs to accommodate the 4 different learning styles.

Feelers: Feelers are very people-oriented. They are expressive and focus on feeling sad n emotions. They enjoy affective learning and gravitate toward learning experiences that explore people’s attitudes and emotions. Feelers thrive in an open, unstructured learning environment. They appreciate the opportunity to work on groups and like activities where they can share opinions and experiences.

Observers: Observers like to watch and listen. They tend to be reserved and quiet and will take their time before acting or participating in class. When they do decline to offer an opinion or answer a question they are generally right on target. They enjoy learning experiences that allow them to consider various ideas and opinions, and they seem to thrive on learning through discovery.

Thinkers: Thinkers rely on logic and reason. They like the opportunity to share ideas and concepts. They prefer activities that require them to analyze and evaluate. They will question the rational behind activities and will challenge statements that they perceive to be too general or without substance. Thinkers prefer to work independently and question the relevance of role plays and simulations.

Doers: Doers like to be actively involved in the learning process. They will take charge in group activities and tend to dominate discussions. They like opportunities to practice what they learn and they are particularly interested in knowing how they are going to apply what they learn in the real world. They like information presented clearly and concisely, and they become impatient with drawn out discussions.


Characteristics Of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is characterised by the following:

Recognises that people learn best from their own experiences and their own reviews.

Subscribes to the notion that what people do is more important than what they know.

Moves beyond knowledge and into skill by generating a learning experience.

Understands that to be remembered over a long period of time the learning process should be enjoyable, motivating and rewarding.

Respects the individual's ideas and choices.

Provides opportunity to take on challenge in an atmosphere of support.

Generates space and time to stand back and reflect when pressures or doubts become too strong.

Cultivates a realisation that the attempt at doing something new or different is more significant than the result.

Produces an awareness that effective learning requires small controlled steps outside comfort zones.


Source Attribution:

1. Knowles, Malcolm; Holton, E. F., III; Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th ed.). Burlington, MA: Elsevier. ISBN 0-7506-7837-2. LCCN 2004024356.

2. Knowles, Malcolm (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy. Wilton, Connecticut: Association Press. ISBN 0-695-81472-9. LCCN 80014344.

3. Watkins, K. (1989) Business and industry. S. Merriam and P. Cunningham (Eds.)     Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education. The Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series. ISBN-1-55542-161-X.

4. Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. Cary L. Cooper (ed.), Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley. ISBN 0471171174, 9780471171171.

5. Kolb, David A. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J. ISBN-10: 0132952610. Source: . Retrieved 27-Jan-2013.

6. Lawson, K. (1998). The trainer’s handbook. The Jossey-Bass Higher Education Series. ISBN-10: 0787939919.

7. [Image] Source: Retrieved 27-Jan-2013.