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Adult Learning Theory and Principles


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									Adult Learning Theory and Principles
Become familiar with Adult Learning Theory and the six principles
of adult learning

Adult Learning Theory
Part of being an effective educator involves understanding how adults learn best
(Lieb,1991). Adult learning theory holds a set of assumptions about how adults
learn. It emphasises approaches to learning that are problem-based and
collaborative rather than didactic, and also emphasises more equality between
the teacher and learner.

Because of their life experience, adults approach learning differently than
children. Generally, adults…

      support themselves hence are generally self directed
      have their own ideas about what’s important to learn
      tend to be concerned about effective use of learning time
      have life experiences to which they can relate new learning
      tend to learn when they need to in order to solve a problem or fulfil a need
      are more likely than children to reject or explain away information that
       contradicts their own experiences or beliefs

What do you mean by 'adult learning principles'?
Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning outlined below.
   1. Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They need to be free to direct
      themselves. Their teachers must actively involve adult participants in the
      learning process and serve as facilitators for them. Specifically, they must
      get participants' perspectives about what topics to cover and let them
      work on projects that reflect their interests. They should allow the
      participants to assume responsibility for presentations and group
      leadership. They have to be sure to act as facilitators, guiding participants
      to their own knowledge rather than supplying them with facts. Finally,
      they must provide the class with opportunities to apply learning to address
      their personal goals.
   2. Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge
      that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and
      previous education. They need to connect learning to this
      knowledge/experience base. To help them do so, facilitators should draw
      out participants' experience and knowledge which is relevant to the topic.
      They must relate theories and concepts to the participants and recognize
      the value of experience in learning.
   3. Adults are goal-oriented. Upon enrolling in a program, they usually know
      what goal they want to attain. They, therefore, appreciate an educational
      program that is organized and has clearly defined elements. Facilitators
      should support participants to work out how the program can help them
      to attain their goals. The articulation of goals and program objectives
      needs to be included early in the program.
   4. Adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning
      something. Learning has to be applicable to their work or other
      responsibilities to be of value to them. This means, also, that theories and
      concepts must be related to a setting familiar to participants. This need
      can be fulfilled by letting participants choose projects that reflect their
      own interests.
   5. Adults are practical, focusing on the aspects of a program most useful to
      them in their work. They may not be interested in knowledge for its own
   6. As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect. Facilitators must
      acknowledge the wealth of experiences that adult participants bring to
      the program. These adults should be treated as equals in experience and
      knowledge and allowed to voice their opinions freely.
How can I use adult learning principles to facilitate professional
learning ?
Here we will discuss some ways to facilitate learning by applying Knowles'
Adult Learning Principles:
1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing
information, ideas or actions on them (Fidishun, 2000).
Your role is to facilitate a learners’ movement toward more self-directed
and responsible learning as well as to foster the learners’ internal
motivation to learn.
As an educator you can:
    Set up a learning program that moves from more to less structure,
     from less to more responsibility and from more to less direct
     supervision, at an appropriate pace that is challenging yet not
     overloading for the student.
    Develop rapport with the learner to optimise your approachability
     and encourage asking of questions and exploration of concepts.
    Show interest in the learner’s thoughts and opinions. Actively and
     carefully listen to any questions asked.
    Lead the learner toward inquiry before supplying them with too many
    Provide regular, constructive and specific feedback.
    Review goals and acknowledge goal completion.
    Encourage use of resources such as library, journals, internet and
     other department resources.
    Set projects or tasks for the learner that reflect their interests and
     which they must complete. For example: to provide professional
     learning for colleagues on topic of choice; to present a case-study
     based on one of their students; to design an educational handout; or
     to lead a teacher or student learning session.
    Acknowledge the diverse learning styles of learners.
2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
      Adults like to be given opportunity to use their existing foundation of
       knowledge and experience gained from life experience, and apply it to
       their new learning experiences. As a professional learning leader you can:
      Find out about your learners - their interests and past experiences
       (personal, work and study related)
      Assist them to draw on those experiences when problem-solving,
       reflecting and applying reasoning processes.
      Facilitate reflective learning opportunities which Fidishun (2000) suggests
       can also assist the student to examine existing biases or habits based on
       life experiences and "move them toward a new understanding of
       information presented" (p4).

3. Adults are goal oriented
Adult learners become ready to learn when "they experience a need to
learn it in order to cope more satisfyingly with real-life tasks or problems"
(Knowles,1980 p 44, as cited in Fidishun, 2000). Your role is to facilitate a
learner’s readiness for problem-based learning and increase the learner’s
awareness of the need for the knowledge or skill presented. As a
professional learning leader, you can:
    Provide meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to
     personal, learner and organisational goals as well as assessment and
     future life goals.
    Ask questions that motivate reflection, inquiry and further research.

4. Adults are relevancy oriented
Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to
what they want to achieve. One way to help learners to see the value of
their observations and practical experiences throughout is to:
    Ask the learner to do some reflection on for example, what they
     expect to learn prior to the experience, on what they learnt after the
     experience, and how they might apply what they learnt in the future,
     or how it will help them to meet their learning goals.
    Provide some choice of fieldwork projects by providing two or more
     options, so that learning is more likely to reflect the learner’s
5. Adults are practical
Through practical fieldwork experiences, interacting with real teachers and
students in their real life situations, learners move to hands-on problem
solving where they can recognise first hand how what they are learning
applies to life and the work context. As a professional learning leader you
    Clearly explain your reasoning when making choices about
     assessments, learning activities and responses to learning needs.
    Be explicit about how what the learner is learning is useful and
     applicable in school contexts.
    Promote active participation by allowing learners to try things rather
     than observe. Provide plenty of practice opportunity in assessment,
     and professional learning processes with ample repetition in order to
     promote development of skill, confidence and competence.
6. Adult learners like to be respected
Respect can be demonstrated to your student by:
    Taking interest
    Acknowledging the wealth of experiences that the learner brings to
     the program;
    Regarding them as a colleague who is equal in life experience;
    Encouraging expression of ideas, reasoning and feedback at every
It is important to keep in mind that the learner is still developing their skills.
However, with the theory and principles of adult learning in mind, you can
facilitate a learning approach that enables learners to move from novice to
more sophisticated learning methods. This facilitates greater integration of
knowledge, information and experience; the learner learns to distinguish
what is important when assessing and working with teachers and students;
how to prioritise teacher and student learning needs and goals; and how to
design locally for diverse contexts (Fidishun, 2000; Lieb,1991).

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