For our adult learning course, “Adult Learning: Theory & Application”, Leadership Learning Group 1 (LLG1) was tasked with exploring adult learning theories by participating in two online course modules. We chose a Massive Open Online Course-or “MOOC” presented by Dr. Scott DeRue titled “Inspiring and Motivating Individuals” and the other a YouTube video titled, “2,500 Years of Learning Theory in 25 Minutes,” presented by Donald Clark. In participating in these online modules, our goal as a learning group was to understand how adult learning principles work in the world of online learning—specifically, how informal learning opportunities would serve to either support adult learning theories or raise new questions about how adult learning really occurs.
The opportunity to participate in two modules helped to clarify how informal learning happens between groups of people. It highlighted the ways informal learning proved to be more personal to the adult learning experience and also, less intimidating than the formal learning environment. Both of the courses emphasized how Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory Assumptions applied to eLearning. One of those concepts we were able to readily apply was the first assumption (“Self-Concept). As adult learners we obtain a wide variety of new information and we try to process the information by building upon a pre-existing knowledge base. Additionally, we were able to practice the orientation to learning assumption; because we are learning theories that are applicable both in the learning environment and work environment, our learning group was excited to have take-aways for immediate application. (Knowles, 1978)
What helped our group feel both motivated by and engaged in the online modules was that the information provided was clear and concise. However, we felt that the MOOC course video was creative and interactive while providing key components of adult learning theories. The presenter of the MOOC course attempted to engage the audience in learning. Though the presenter’s delivery was dry, the message was conveyed in a simple and easy to understand manner. The MOOC course gave us a sense of accountability in terms of clarity around what success looks like. Particularly, it highlighted the importance of “thinking different” by using visionary language, fundamental values, message repetition, and asking rhetorical questions to get the audience thinking.
We identified three different adult learning behaviors when participating in the MOOC. On the forefront was the importance of communicating a vision that provides the team with a sense of shared direction and meaning. Next, Dr. DeRue shared the importance of structuring the team, clarifying roles and responsibilities, defining the intersections and points of interdependence. Finally, we also learned the importance of being able to show consideration for individual team members and motivate them by understanding their needs and the value they bring to the team. The aforementioned behaviors also align with Knowles’ assumption of adult learning. (Knowles 1980)
The YouTube video, while difficult to understand at times because of the presenter’s accent, provided a lot of substantial and historically based knowledge related to the history of learning. Nelson Cowan put a lot of emphasis on the role that a facilitators play in the learning process. (Cowan 1988) This was particularly relevant while viewing the YouTube video. Nelson Cowan’s Model of Working Memory focuses on five different approaches that we felt were present while watching the YouTube video: “(1) working memory information comes from hierarchically arranged faculties; (2) different processing limits apply to different faculties; (3) the focus of attention is controlled by voluntary processes; (4) stimuli with physical features that have remained relatively unchanged over time; and (5) awareness influences processing.” (Cowan 1988, p. 62)
The presenter provided information surrounding cognitive overload and chunking and how harmful this can be to your memory. This supported another scholar’s reference to how cognitive psychological theories are connected and how learners often learn through experiences. (Sorohan 1993). The instructor gave us great feedback on how to engage students by utilizing cues and ways to prevent your learner from becoming easily bored. The presenter provided great visual elements by connecting art, philosophy and religion and adapting those areas to adult learning. Additionally, the presenter injected humor to maintain audience connectedness. The presenter seemed to disagree with a lot of the dominant learning theories. Of particular interest was the speaker’s belief that learning styles were useless in engaging the learner, but rather, learning should be tailored to personality types. This allowed our learning group to explore new theories while challenging our current belief system in the importance of learning styles. The presenter wanted educators to focus on learner personality, which is often shaped, not in the classroom, but as a result of informal learning experiences.
We have come a long way since the first MOOC in 2008. Both the YouTube presentation and the MOOC, however, held true to the core values of the original online course. Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier’s MOOC, “The MOOC of One” would go on to open the doors to other MOOCs but also focused on distinguishing some relationships that exists between individual learning, how individuals contribute to knowledge and its flow, and learners that learn through various networks. Throughout the presentation Downes outlined design principles that aligned with connectivist theory. Two key components were that of the learning anatomy and creating diversity with various content as well as creating opportunities for dialogue and discussion. These were present during the MOOC course that we took. The presenter provided numerous opportunities for feedback and open dialogue. Essentially, both modules that LLG1 participated in provided information and resources that are valuable for adult learning. They were structured, colorful and informative and both provided insight into the way that adult learners can be engaged outside of the formal classroom setting.
Knowles, M. S. Self-Directed Learning. New York: Association Press, 1975.
Knowles. M . S. The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to
Andragogy. (2nd ed.) New York: Cambridge Books, 1980.
Cowan, J. (1988). Learning to facilitate experiential learning. Studies in Continuing
Education, 10(1), 19-29
Cowan, N. (1999). An embedded-processes model of working memory. Models of
Working memory: Mechanisms of active maintenance and executive control, 20, 506.
Downes, S. (2014) The MOOC of One, Stephen’s Web, March 10
Schunk, D. (2011) Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective (6th edition) New York: Pearson
Sorohan, E. G . (1993) . We do, therefore, we learn . Training and Development
9 Tips To Apply Adult Learning Theory to eLearning - eLearning Industry. (2014).
Retrieved February 07, 2016, from http://elearningindustry.com/9-tips-apply-adult-learning-theory-to-elear...
Frances Jean Baptiste