Many of the next generation of students who reach college will be remarkably immersed in technology, far more so than we or other members of any older generation can imagine. With such an immensely changing environment, people need skills to benefit from all technology has to offer. This research paper will explore how adult learning occurs and the factors that contribute to a positive learning experience. We will highlight some of the key principles that guide this learning. Adult learning is increasingly important, given that technological advances and the creation of distance learning has allowed for a wider definition of what learning really is, as well as new ways of integrating learning into everyday life. What are the driving factors that encourage learning in adults? How can adults be engaged in their own learning experiences, and what are the implications that the age of technology has, as far as adult learning is concerned? This paper explores the nature of technology with key highlights of the dominant research related to adult learning principles.
Adult Learning: What do we know?
Malcolm Knowles is widely believed to be the father of andragogy—the framework that makes up adult learning theories (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 1998). While it is still up for debate whether or not there is a fundamental difference between adult learners and child learners, one thing is clear—adult learners are often guided by learning principles geared towards not only enhancing the learning experience, but also ultimately ensuring that the adult learner feels connected to that learning experience. That is to say, there has to be a level of meaningfulness attached to the learning to make it more likely that the adult learner will be engaged in the learning process (Merriam et al, 2007). The ability of the adult learner to become connected to their learning relies on various factors. Through research, we have determined some principles that guide adult learning. They are: (1) motivation; (2) experiences; and (3) self-direction. Throughout the paper, we will explore guided principles to become familiar with adult learning techniques and discuss their adaptions in the digital world.
Through our focus on adult learning principles we find ourselves looking for underlying evidence of how we, as adults, learn. The unfortunate aspect of this understanding falls back on learning and how it occurs. Too often, people who do not have enough information and are misguided, assume that learning is something that can only occur in an educational institute under the direct instructions of a teacher. What we can all agree on is that learning happens both informally and formally, and there is room for both ways within our personal learning structures.
Various researchers have found that students who are motivated to learn find positive value within their learning activities. Their expectations for success play a vital role in their guidance as well as the quality of the learning behavior within which they are involved. Researchers have also found that students who are goal-oriented learners focus on reaching a special goal and seeing it through to completion. These students have targeted criteria in mind and as a result meeting that targeted criteria is of the utmost importance.
Motivation and perceptions are important principles to adult learning. Cognitively, adults’ perceptions of the world around them become their realities. They create beliefs out of these perceptions, which in turn become their truth. Motivation is something that can fuel adults to gain perceptions in accordance to their own willing. Wlodkowski (2004) offers four strategies for motivating adult learners in an education setting, which include the following: establish inclusion; develop a positive attitude; enhance meaning; and engender competence. These strategies hold true in facilitating learning to other adults. Ensuring that students are included and gain something from the learning experience increases their motivation to learn.
In addition, adult learner’s motivation is guided by their experiences. For the adult learner to be motivated and engaged in the learning process, the material needs to be 1) presented in interesting and dynamic ways; 2) of interest to the learner; and 3) have some level of applicability into other aspects of the adult learner’s life. Adult learners need to know why and how they are learning and that it will be relevant to their lives (Knowles, et al 1998). Part of Knowles’ learning theory speaks of the importance of the learner knowing the value behind the learning and that the information will ultimately be useful for the adult learner (Knowles et al, 1998). The adult learner does not want to feel that his or her time is being wasted and that the learning will ultimately lead to a fulfillment of a personal or professional goal.
Similarly, and in comparison to the principles mentioned above, action-learning helps with real time application of skill sets and helps leave positive impressions on the students engaging in the practice. This principle further tied into how many adult learners might favor transformative learning. Transformative learning allows life experiences to create opportunities for growth and development.
Learning & Adaption Skills in the Digital Age
Adaptability is amongst the most important skills that every digital learner should have. This skill is particularly true because of the unstoppable changes that occur every day in using technologies. In a book written by Burkhardt and colleagues (2003), they particularly defined adaptability as “the ability to modify one’s thinking, attitudes, or behaviors to be better suited to current or future environments” (p. 34). The Internet’s ways of connecting others demand the user to possess skills that can allow him/her to adapt to these changes in interaction over time. Adaptation skills, therefore, are necessary because environments, especially virtual ones, have tendencies to change and so requiring the user to adjust so accordingly.
Global Interconnectedness has been realized through the World Wide Web. It’s integration into education supplementing, in some cases, beginning to replace the actual classroom interaction. While this is generally a new practice, users need to become accustomed to such manner of interaction. At times, it can be frustrating especially for learners who are not familiar with the dynamics of online interaction. There are also times when teams need to meet through online discussions and connect with each other via emails, chats, phone, or videoconferences. Without the ability to modify their attitude and their perception about the use of these tools, students of the 21st century may be left out.
While there are many theorist and theories surrounding adult learning principles, we believe that the truth surrounding this matter lies within the actual learners themselves. We have found that many of the theorists mentioned above attempted to help students understand that it was necessary for them to make their own decisions while understanding their own potential. Others like, Edgar Faure (1972) believed that learning comes from a combination of practical experiences and academic studies.
In closing, these adult principles only act as a guide to help create a proper learning environment. These principles can change depending on one’s learning style, culture, gender or environment. Collectively, it is our belief that one principle is not more important than the other and they can be used interchangeably. Undeniably, we live in a time when adult learning is taking a major shift. Adult learning has become interconnected, hands on, and interactive and it is no longer a teacher to student approach. Collaboration and technological advances have created a new wave of learning in adulthood. Adult learning in the 21st century forces us to be involved and require that we are active participants in our education process. In addition, it allows us to help each other become familiar with different learning styles, processes and cultural differences that may hinder the learning process.
Personal Reflections on Adult Learning-Frances
In high school I was convinced that silver nail polish would change my life for the better. I headed to my local pharmacy and bought the shade I preferred by Wet & Wild called, “Gray’s Anatomy.” I also grabbed some cotton balls and polish remover in preparation for a small and quick clean up. Once home, I set up my work station with newspaper and got to work on my left hand first. After what seemed like two hours later and once I was sure I could make my way around without smudging, I went to show my sister the fruits of my silver laden labor. She seemed to laugh for five minutes straight, being barely able to catch her breath, she held up her perfect polish job next to mine and after a closer investigation I turned right around to clean off my knuckles, my cuticles and for some strange reason my palms. I was disheartened at my struggle and effort with nothing to show except defeat.
I sat and thought to myself, “How can I manage if I can’t get my hand to stop shaking long enough to get the polish brush to cooperate?” This memory resurfaced as I read an article in the Physician Leadership Journal that spoke about a learning theory called action learning. This article went on to speak about developing leadership through action based on a 70/20/10 rule. Problem solving and special assignments should be 70 percent, while drawing on knowledge from others develops learners at 20 percent, with the final 10 percent being dedicated to formal learning with direction and support (Duberman T, Mulford G, Bloom L, 2015). Action learning allows students and employees, and in the case of the article, physicians to break away from formal learning to learn new skills, increase their focus, and increase their experiences to empower them. Action learning “marries analysis and action.” (Duberman T, Mulford G, Bloom L, 2015) Little did I know when I became determined to master a realistic and even finished at home manicure I would be engaging in action learning.
Action learning helps with real time application of skill sets and helps leave positive impressions on the students engaging in the practice. This further tied into how I favor transformative learning. Transformative learning allows life experiences to create opportunities for growth and development. In reference to my nail polish example, I can see how I experienced the five phases of critical thinking as it applies to transformative learning. The first phase or “trigger event” sprung out of my desire to have a better silver nail polish painting experience. My appraisal left me realizing that aside from my sister, all of my other polish painting friends also suffered from shaky polish hand syndrome. In the 3rd stage of exploration I began to practice and try new techniques in an attempt to figure out how to steady my hand. This led me to the 4th stage where I decided to use different sources like YouTube for tips and tricks and researching articles with new techniques that left me feeling more comfortable during practice and ultimately more knowledgeable than my peers. I was able to reach the 5th stage of integration with new thinking and much more steady and cooperative left and right hands (Merrian, 1991).
As I entered college I was able to paint both my hands and feet well. My friends began to use me as the go to person to save some extra dollars and I in turn was able to practice designs and new color schemes on them. With all the advances in not only nail care, but also adult learning and online education we can use action learning to stay engaged and practice skills to be better workers and leaders.
Personal Reflections on Adult Learning-La-Toya
In this course, I was challenged with determining what principles associated with adult learning theories I feel that I relate to most. During this process, I learned a lot about my personal learning practices as well as who I was within my current learning situation. What stood out to me most was that I am a self-directed learner. I am very hands on and therefore, my learning stems from what I do. Of course, I can learn the, “old fashioned” way of being taught. However, when I teach myself I have what I consider to be a better understanding of the process and how effective it will be for me to utilize the same.
If we look at what self-directed learning looks like, we find that self-directed learners can become empowered, independent, creative, and energetic. This does not mean that self-directed learners will learn in isolation but rather, these types of learners seem to have the ability to transfer the learning that they receive from one situation to another and it can involve various resources and activities. (Long, H B, 1989)
While these principles seem significant in value, there are some very distinct disadvantages. What many researchers have found is that self-directed learners struggle with self-discipline, procrastination and have a lack of time management. Without the presence of an instructor to give feedback and reinforcement, learners lack motivation and discipline. (Knowles, M S, 1975) (Long, H B, 1989)
Personal Reflections on Adult Learning-Ghazal & Abrar
Another important principle of learning is the goal-oriented principle. This comes from the general principle that adults learn because they want to achieve a certain goal. As an adult learner, I usually consider how the learning experience can help me achieve my career and life goals. As a facilitator of learning, I use this principle in a way that students can find the relevance of the content of the lessons. I usually see to it that the concepts are practical and applicable in their lives. Wolowiec (2012) adds the following guidelines as well on how facilitators should be able to apply the learning principle:
Provide meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to personal/professional goals.
Share real-life case studies that connect the dots between theory and practice.
Ask questions that motivate reflection, inquiry, and further research.
Personal Reflections on Adult Learning-Karen
While determining what type of graduate program I wanted to pursue, I considered the things that were most important to me. Along with the need for flexibility and a program that appealed to my interests, I sought a program that would also serve to provide valuable skills, which I could then transfer to my work life. The applicability of what I was learning was of utmost importance to me as an adult learner. I have narrowed it down what matters most and what motivates me most and have honed in on my need to have career advancement through the completion of an advanced degree. In order to have the career advancement I sought, I needed to learn not only key leadership skills but also have a real sense of what adult learners like myself needed in order to properly supervise the group of individuals I was tasked with supervising.
Adult learner’s motivation is guided by their experiences. For the adult learner to be motivated and engaged in the learning process, the material needs to be 1) presented in an interesting and dynamic ways; 2) of interest to the learner; and 3) have some level of applicability into other aspects of the adult learner’s life. Adult learners need to know why and how they are learning and that it will be relevant to their life work (Knowles, et al 1998). In my case, I am seeking career advancement and self-edification. The impetus for learning, in this case, is a need to learn in order to achieve a personal goal. Part of Knowles’ learning theory speaks of the importance of the adult learning, knowing that there is value but also a benefit to pursuing learning (Knowles et al, 1998). The adult learner does not want to feel that his or her time is being wasted and that the learning will ultimately lead to a fulfillment of a goal, particularly career goals.
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Frances Jean Baptiste