The manner in which adults learn, differs vastly from that of children. Consequently, traditional pedagogical techniques are often ineffective when applied to adults and young people. This is because they have a vast array of personal and vocational experiences which they bring with them, into the learning environment.
Malcolm S. Knowles (1984)1 termed the theory and practice of adult education as andragogy. The principles of andragogy are as follows;
• Adults need to know why, what and how they are learning
• Adults often wish to be autonomous and self-directing
• Adults have a range of knowledge and prior experience which can shape attitudes to learning
• Adults usually learn best when something is of immediate value
• Adults often focus on solving problems in contexts or situations that are important to them in their life
• Motivation to learn tends to be based on the intrinsic value of the learning and the personal pay-off
David Kolb (1984)2 focused on experiential learning and suggested that there are four stages that follow on from one another, to complete an adult cycle of learning.
• The first stage is concrete experience where a student has active experience of learning something first hand
• This is then followed by reflective observation on that personal experience
• The next phase of the cycle, abstract conceptualisation, focuses on how the experience is applied to known theory and how it can subsequently be modified for the final stage of future active experimentation
Facilitating Adult Learning
Facilitating adult learning requires greater emphasis to be placed on student focused teaching methods, as demonstrated by the theories of Knowles and Kolb. This often entails applying a flexible and meaningful approach to learning strategies which encompasses the following elements:
• Providing options for learners about where, when and how they learn
• Delivering training in a respectful manner and treat learners as equals
• Modifying teaching styles to suit adult learners
• Outlining aims and objectives at the beginning of each training session
• Focusing on learning outcomes as opposed to teaching goals.
• Establishing specific objectives in the Individual Learning Plan (I.L.P.) which reflect real life ambitions
• Promoting learner responsibility, activity and discovery as opposed to teacher control and content delivery
• Encouraging learners to share their experiences
• Contextualising learner activities
• Monitoring progress and using positive feedback to implement improvements and improve self esteem
• Providing additional resources as and when necessary
• Being receptive to learner observations, suggestions and feedback
What are Learning Styles?
Additionally, all individuals have their own personal likes and dislikes when it comes to learning. This is referred to as their ‘learning style.’ Learning styles are not fixed and may change as the student gets older. Learning styles may also vary, depending upon the subject matter being taught.
VAK Learning Styles
Originally devised in the 1920’s, the Visual-Auditory-Kinaesthetic (VAK) model is a simplistic tool, used to assess an individual’s preferred learning style. Visual learners prefer seeing and reading and benefit from graphs, illustrations, handouts and watching a DVD. Auditory learners favour speaking and listening thus, brainstorming or question and answer sessions would suit them. Kinaesthetic or tactile learners have a preference for touching and doing and like activities that involve examining objects and participating in role play. Most students gravitate towards one of these primary styles and tend to look for their dominant learning style, in each learning situation, because they associate that style with learning success. This theory is supported by David Kolb2 who believes that students learn faster and more effectively if teaching methods match their preferred learning styles.
1. Knowles, M. S. et al. (1984) Andragogy in Action. Applying Modern Principles of Adult Education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
2. Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential Learning : Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.