Learning Theories/Adult Learning Theories

Overview

Malcolm Knowles might well be considered the founding father of adult learning. He contrasted the “concept of andragogy, meaning “the art and science of helping adults learn,”…with pedagogy, the art and science of helping children learn” (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999, p. 272). Knowles’ original studies and writings arose from the assumption that there are significant, identifiable differences between adult learners and learners under the age of eighteen. Primarily, the differences, according to Knowles, relate to an adult learner being more self-directing, having a repertoire of experience, and being internally motivated to learn subject matter that can be applied immediately – learning that is especially “closely related to the developmental tasks of his or her social role” (p. 272).

Andragogy

Knowles (1968) popularized this European concept over thirty years ago. Andragogy, (andr – ‘man’), contrasted with pedagogy, means “the art and science of helping adults learn” (Knowles, 1980, p. 43). Knowles labeled andragogy as an emerging technology which facilitates the development and implementation of learning activities for adults. This emerging technology is based on five andragogical assumptions of the adult learner:

  1. Self-Concept: As a person matures, he or she moves from dependency to self-directness.
  2. Experience: Adults draw upon their experiences to aid their learning.
  3. Readiness: The learning readiness of adults is closely related to the assumption of new social roles.
  4. Orientation: As a person learns new knowledge, he or she wants to apply it immediately in problem solving.
  5. Motivation (Later added): As a person matures, he or she receives their motivation to learn from internal factors.

These five assumptions dovetail with the thoughts and theories of others. Merriam and Caffarella (1999) point to three keys to transformational learning: experience, critical reflection and development. The aspect of experience (the second assumption to andragogy) seems like an important consideration in creating an effective learning opportunity for adults. The learning opportunity needs to be relevant and applicable to a person’s set of experiences. Argote, McEvily, and Reagans (2003) point to experience as an important factor in one’s ability to create, retain and transfer knowledge.

Critical reflection is the second key to transformational learning and part of andragogy’s self-directed learning. Reflection/think time is yet another essential principle to creating an effective learning experience for adults. Garvin (1993) shares the importance of fostering an environment that is conducive to learning including time for reflection and analysis. Adult learners need time to contemplate the ramifications of the learning experience to their experience and responsibilities.

The third key to transformational learning is development (corresponding to the third assumption of andragogy). Merriam and Caffarella state that “the ability to think critically, which is mandatory to effecting a transformation, is itself developmental” (p. 330). If development is the outcome of transformational learning, then an effective adult learning opportunity needs to be created that will take personal development into consideration

Andragogy assumes the following about the design of learning:

  1. Adults have the need to know why they are learning something.
  2. Adults learn through doing.
  3. Adults are problem-solvers.
  4. Adults learn best when the subject is of immediate use.

According to Knowles ( 1984, Appendix D) an example used to apply the principles to personal computer training:

  1. Explain why certain skills are taught (functions, commands).
  2. Task oriented instead of memorizing. Tasks should be common tasks.
  3. Take diversity into play. Acknowledge different learning levels and experience.
  4. Allow adults to learn on their own and from their mistakes. ( M.Knowles)

Some would contend that Knowles only introduced a theory of teaching rather than a theory of adult learning. In commenting on this thought, Merriam and Caffarella (1999) referring to Hartree suggest, “that it is not clear whether Knowles had presented a theory of learning or a theory of teaching, whether adult learning was different from child learning, and whether there was a theory at all-perhaps these were just principles of good practice” (p. 273). It is further contended that Knowles did not establish a proven theory, rather he introduced a “set of well-grounded principles of good practice” (Brookfirle, 1986, p. 98).

“Within companies, instructional methods are designed for improving adult learners’ knowledge and skills. It is important to distinguish the unique attributes of adult learners so as to be better able to incorporate the principles of adult learning in the design of instruction” (Yi, 2005, p. 34). Within this context, adult learning is aimed at not only improving individual knowledge and skill, but ultimately it is the goal to improve the organizational performance by transfer of learning directly to work applications. Yi suggest three methods to foster learning in adult organizations: Problem-Based Learning which seeks to increase problem-solving and critical thinking skills; Cooperative Learning, which builds communication and interpersonal skills; and Situated Learning, which targets specific technical skills that can be directly related to the field of work (Yi, 2005). Each of these methods support the assumptions about how adults learn; specifically they are more self-directed, have a need for direct application to their work, and are able to contribute more to collaborative learning through their experience.

Experiential learning

Experiential Learning Theory emphasizes the role that true experiences play in the learning process. It is this emphasis that distinguishes itself from other learning theories. Cognitive learning theories emphasize cognition over affect and behavioral learning theories deny any role for subjective experience in the learning process.

Scholars in the field of education have two contrasting views when it comes to the concept of experiential learning. The first view defines experiential learning as a sort of learning which enables students to apply newly acquired knowledge in a relevant setting. The relevant setting can be a sponsored institution of learning with trainers, instructors, teachers, or professors to guide the lesson. The other school of thought defines experiential learning as “education that occurs as a direct participation in the events of life” (Houle, 1980, p. 221). Thus, learning is not achieved in a formal setting, but in the practice of reflection of daily experiences. Kolb furthers the second definition of experiential learning by developing a model which details learning process through experiences. Kolb and Fry’s (1975) experiential learning model is a continuous spiral process which consists of four basic elements:

  1. Concrete experience
  2. Observation and reflection
  3. Forming abstract concepts
  4. Testing in new situations

Immediate or concrete experiences are the basis for observation and reflections. These reflections are assimilated and distilled into abstract concepts from which new implications for action can be drawn (Kolb & Fry).

According to Kolb and Fry (1975), the adult learner can enter the process at any one of the elements. The adult learner moves to the next step once he or she processes their experience in the previous step.

Anxiety and the Adult Learner

An interview with psychologist Edgar Schein, Coutu suggests that more often than not, organizations fail at transformational learning. They rarely fundamentally change the behaviors within the organization. Schein dismisses the notion that learning is fun, especially for adults. He equates adult learning within organizations with that of the brainwashing techniques he observed while studying prisoners of the Korean War (Coutu, 2002). Organizations must find a method to deal with the anxiety adults experience when they are forced to “unlearn” what they know and learn something new (Coutu, 2002, p. 6). Schein discusses two kinds of anxiety: learning anxiety and survival anxiety. It is in this manner that he draws the parallel to brainwashing; that is “learning will only happen when survival anxiety is greater than learning anxiety” (Coutu, 2002, p. 6). Each of these anxieties could be managed, for example learning can be constructed in a “safe” environment where the consequences of failure are minimal. Survival anxiety can obviously be increased by threatening job loss, a lack of security, or recognizing competitive elements of the market.

Case studies & workplace examples

The adult learning experience presented itself in all of its glory and contradictions through a curriculum review taking place in a school setting. The objective was to examine the current school curriculum and evaluate it for strengths and weaknesses. The purpose for this review was to both align the curriculum with current practice and augment the curriculum to enhance student learning. Interestingly, the teachers involved in this process seemed to exhibit all the qualities of adult learners mentioned previously: learning through projects, applying self-direction to the process, challenging the process for purpose, and some approached the process with much anxiety. Engaging in the process illustrated that adult learning is individual and there were as many approaches to adult learning as there were people involved in the process.

Article Sources and Contributors

Learning Theories/Adult Learning Theories Source: http://en.wikibooks.org/w/index.php?oldid=2060870 Contributors: Abigor, Fishpi, Hagindaz, Panic2k4, Rdunican, Recent Runes, Red4tribe, 29 anonymous edits

License

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https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MRH3CoZFj2RFrAvDNHOFao11xd_tgyahca-QZbRwmww/copy

Spanish Commercials on Campus

By Adriana Cruces

Giving students body cameras that will allow them to record real life conversations on campus and display their real live conversations during assemblies and parent meetings can assist assessment and growth. What do you think: survival skills or applied pedagogy?

My Students

Students in my course are first time Spanish-speaking learners who would otherwise not use their learned language or  never have spoken other languages in their home environments. Students in my course are learning how to be bilingual or multilingual and are learning how to become world travelers, however, at times these skills are only available in their classrooms. Students are exposed to multiple cultural activities which assist them in embracing their learning and are encouraged to seek and find these learned skills within their communities. Students seek outside the classroom opportunities to ensure they are exposed to real life conversations which are most of the time limited within their neighborhoods. Students are transitioning to an all technological classroom and as such require extra support and extra resources in technology. Bridging the gap between home and school, and facing the limited resources available for students it is imperative as an educator to develop opportunities in which students feel excited, have fun, and use the language they are learning and that will allow them to speak with 80% of the worlds bilingual population.

As passionate educators it is believed that students must be exposed and experience first hand using their new learned skills in order to own their Spanish language and to speak with real people outside of the learning environment to be able to apply skills learned in class in a more personalized and real life situations. Currently, schools do not offer language labs, nor provide opportunities to walk around campus creating conversations, thus creating video commercials and guiding students to interview others on campus not only will ensure students master their skills but also strengthen their fear for public speaking.

Are our schools ready to welcome technology so as to allow students to use body cameras to develop activities on campus that would expose students to critically think and use the classroom curriculum in real life scenarios!?… Aren’t we as adults seeking to learn skills that can quickly be applied in the real world?… Haven’t we limited resources for students in such way that hinders their ability to expand their creativity!  Why not adopt tools that all humans love and need to use: body cameras bridge the gap and closes the lack of real life conversations in a semi controlled environment. Do you agree?

Skill Mastery: Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk!

By Adriana Cruces

Currently, our school is using a new textbook, as we have navigated through the textbook in our second year after adoption, it has been found that most of the specific skills to become proficient in the subject and level have been missed by the assessments given by the publisher and or are at a higher level of study since the adoption was a college-level textbook.

Untitled drawing (2)One particular idea has been brought to the table: using the textbooks as a resource and not as the main tool used to drive instruction.  Why not select and construct mastery assessments that each student be given with multiple scenarios of assessment for one skill and be required to pass and master the skill at least at an 80% rate. This could possibly set the stage for students to know that the particular skill, one, it’s not going away, and two is really needed to understand the skills and know how to apply them in order to move forward in a real-life situation.

As a reflective practice, I have asked the question: What are those essential skills that each student must master in order to function and be successful in the next level of study? And How can I provide real-life scenarios where each student must depend on knowing how to apply this skill that will allow them to internalize and retain the learned objective? Finally, how can I continue to spiral those skills to ensure the use of the skill becomes automated and mastered?

Image of students and teacher discussing work

Educators need to work together to identify which skills students need to master in order to be successful in the next level.

Together with all reflective practices, I have come to terms that one single textbook cannot be and should not be the main nor the only driving force that provided practice for students. But rather, as a district, as a department, and as a single classroom, we could study the possibility of finding which essential skills must students master at each given level of subject matter in order to go on to the next level of study. How will students show they can walk the walk and talk the talk!

I would appreciate feedback on ideas that would help construct data-driven skills based level assessments when individuality in each class and each school and each district will be a factor as students transfer from one class to another or from one school to the next school or even from one district to the next. On more than one occasion, I have discovered that although we believe we deliver quality instruction in our individual classrooms, if one student transfers from one class to the next, or one school to another, the delivery and expectations of each individual classroom  hinder students success, as there is no common ground currently for some subjects here at SUSD! Shouldn’t we as educators be part of solutions! Shouldn’t we walk the walk and talk the talk?