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1.1 Adult Learning and Development

Adult Learning and Development covers a wide range of research and practice in the field of Adult Education and Lifelong Learning. The materials chosen for this module have been carefully selected to provide participants with both an overview of the field, and specific techniques and theories which may be implemented directly in workshop or classroom settings.

Adult learning is closely aligned with the concepts of learner-centered instruction and self-directed learning.

Instruction which sees the learner as a passive recipient of subject matter is seen to limit and hinder adult learning. Adults bring with them rich resources of experiences and knowledge which may enhance learning when attended to in the instructional setting.

Often however, these past experiences are seen by the instructor as irrelevant to the subject being taught, and are therefore ignored. This inattention to past experiences may place adults in positions of frustration, as they try to relate new learning to past experiences on their own, without the help or facilitation of the instructor.

Andragogy, the research and practice of adult teaching and learning, was proposed by Malcolm Knowles to provide guidance to teachers/facilitators of adult learning. Within Andragogy are guidelines for creating an environment which is more learner-centered and which places emphasis on adult self-direction. The instructor is seen as a facilitator, rather than informer, of adults.

Adults have input into every aspect of the learning process

Adults have input into every aspect of the learning process, including the formation of objectives, the learning activities themselves, and the methods of evaluation. The practice of Andragogy is often threatening to new instructors. It is relatively simple to prepare a lecture, give it, and respond to simple questions directly related to the topic of the lecture. It requires more self-awareness and self-confidence to plan a course in a way which considers each adult in the room a unique individual and which modifies the learning environment for the needs of the learner. The benefits of an andragogical approach to adult education may in the long run outweigh the problems in implementation. It is difficult to see how listening passively to a lecture, or performing a procedure in a rote way leads to independent, self-directed learners. Learners who have experienced the self-responsibility required of adults within Andragogy are more likely to carry that self-responsibility into their lives.

Difference between the way you learned as a child and the way you learn as an adult

Andragogy developed out of a realization that there is a difference between the way adults learned as children, and the way they approach learning as adults. As children, learning was often of no immediate, practical value. The focus was on memorization and simple skills, on essentially lower level objectives. Children learn what they need to learn for "later", whenever later is. Subjects are taught to prepare children for college entrance examinations or vocational careers. The result of the learning is a “grade”, which must be earned to graduate. Yet most adults take an entirely different approach to learning. Many adults set out to improve their memories, lower stress, gain wealth or happiness on their own. They have set the objectives, developed the learning methods, and eventually evaluate their own success at meeting the objectives.

Seminars and workshops contain elements of both childhood education (pedagogy) and adult education (andragogy). There is too much vital information and techniques to be mastered for adults to take the time to "learn it on their own". A blending of subject-centered and problem-centered approaches to workshop instruction, with room for the "adultness" of learning is required.

Creating Semiinars and Workshops for Adults

Seminars are filled with adults, individuals who are self-responsible. Adult development proceeds in stages over a wide variety of ages. The general progression of development proceeds from dependency to independence, from self-involved to secure enough within the self to understand others, from obsession with small pieces of the picture to wisdom to see the whole picture and where each piece fits. Adults in workshops and seminars will be functioning from many different developmental perspectives, from many different notions of "how the world works".

Module One asks participants review the programs they provide, and explore ways to incorporate adult learning methods within their programs. This application of the material in module one to actual settings is essential in the design of the material. Adult education techniques must not be taken on face value, but applied and experimented with. They must be used by adults to teach adults. The results will make themselves known.

Using adult education techniques does not mean giving up valid teaching methods. There is a time for an active lecturer and passive learners. There is also a time for active learners and reflective teachers.

Each participant will respond and use the materials enclosed in this module in their own unique ways. All participants are adults, and therefore know instinctively how they best learn at their current level of development. Treating learners as adults and as professional peers is perhaps the best approach to adult learning and development. Using the techniques outlined here will assist in this process and result in the "adultness" of our learners to emerge and develop.

REFERENCES: Knowles,M.S. (1980)
The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy.
(2nd ed.) New York: Cambridge Books. p. 43-44.

Be sure to take the Self Test at the top of the page before proceeding to your next unit,1.4 Adult Learning Practices

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