Author Topic: Adult learning theory  (Read 1029 times)


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Adult learning theory
« on: April 19, 2017, 11:50:53 PM »
Adult learning theory

- While we often associate learning with childhood, the truth is that humans are biologically wired to continually learn from our environment and experiences. It's part of how we survive as a species. And as a result, learning occurs throughout our lifetimes. Studies have proven that the brain can build new neural pathways at every age, even overcoming debilitating brain injuries. There are several researchers who studied how adults learn. Alexander Kapp created the concept of andragogy, how adults learn, in contrast to pedagogy, how children learn.

Then Malcolm Knowles and Patricia Cross built upon Kapp's work and identified that, as we mature and leave schooling, we have more freedom for self-directed learning, and we shift to finding solutions for our real-life challenges. Our motivation to learn becomes internalized. While we're born learners, the structure and pressure of school often casts learning as a duty or responsibility. Being forced to learn every day according to the school district's plans often diminishes our natural love of learning. As adults, we can reclaim that internal motivation, and learn something simply because it interests us.

In addition, as we live longer, we accumulate more knowledge and experience, which becomes a resource for more learning. For example, you may have an ah-ha moment today that connects to something you read five years ago, or something that happened in your job last year. Knowles and Cross crafted three principles to guide the design of adult learning. The first says that learning materials should honor the wide range of backgrounds and experiences that learners posses, and work for different levels of skill, learning preferences, et cetera.

It also says that learning should allow learners to discover things for themselves, through self-directed experiences, and making mistakes should be considered an important part of the learning process. Finally, learning should be contextualized for how the learner will actually apply the information to their lives, including understanding they why behind what is being taught. Frederick Hudson is another major contributor to adult learning, and he identified that it's not a linear process moving from less to more complex, but rather, learning happens in the life cycles of transformation.

These cycles of transformation are usually affiliated with other events, both positive and negative, like a new job or a layoff, getting married or buying a home, and the birth and death of those close to us. These events naturally push us to grow, and we often intentionally turn to learning to help us through them. Bloom's Taxonomy of Knowledge is another theory that informs adult learning. Benjamin Bloom discovered that all knowledge is not the same, and that different levels of knowledge mean different kinds of learning, too.

His model identified six distinct levels of knowledge and learning. The most basic level is memorization, rote repetition of what is told to you. The next level up is comprehension, or understanding. The third level is application, where you take what you learned into a new context. This is where people would apply learning to their job or work. The last three levels, called higher order thinking, are the hallmarks of higher education and professional learning.

You're taking that base knowledge and building upon it. Some people rank these levels, but I believe they're equally complex. One of the higher levels is analysis, where you use logical inquiry to take something apart. Next there's creativity, which is taking information and doing something completely new with it. This would include creating something or innovating a new version. Finally, we have evaluation, which requires you to judge something using some specific criteria. For example, you could evaluate your business, using key performance indicators, or KPIs, like customer satisfaction, profitability, and environmental impact.

I use one last model to inform working with adult learners, and that's appreciative inquiry. This model is not about learning new material, but rather focuses on harnessing the wisdom and insights from previous experiences. I often ask learners to remember a time they really excelled at something, or had a peak performance, and then we explore what made that time different. Appreciative inquiry allows people to focus in and build on successes, so that they can repeat them and further develop them. This works well with both individuals and groups, and also aligns with how the brain naturally learns.