What is adult learning?

Posted by Greten on 15 Nov 2021 under Terms

Adult learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skills by adults through education. There are many ways to accomplish adult learning in a formal context, including higher education, trade school, or apprenticeship. Informal ways are also available, such as watching instructional articles and tutorial videos on the internet and then practicing the skill immediately.

There are several strategies and ideas to efficiently educate adults, making adult learning a significant area of research for many specialists. Most of the bodies of research in learning were done in the context of basic education, with children as both the subjects and the intended beneficiaries. Because children and adults learn differently, various strategies must be employed to make learning successful for adults.

Children's education is mandatory, conventional, and regulated. Adult learning is both elective and purposeful. Adult learners tend to be self-directed and autonomous. On the other hand, adults are more likely to resist learning that contradicts their identity as independent persons and does not match their needs and interests.

A man attending a class; face is not visible. He has a laptop, mobile phone, and notebook on the table.

Gone is the old concept where kids need to focus on schooling and finish college, and then build up their career based on what degree they finished. Instead, the prevailing concept now is life-long learning; people need to learn constantly throughout their adult lives for a variety of reasons: to remain competitive in their fields, to get a promotion, to shift careers, and even to just improve themselves.

There is no distinction in an adult's life between periods of learning and periods of application of what they just learned. Learning and application are inextricably linked; they both continue and reinforce one another.

What is Andragogy?

A very close concept to adult learning is andragogy, which was introduced by Malcolm Knowles in 1980. Andragogy is defined as the art and science of assisting adults in learning.

In the field of education, pedagogy is defined as the art and science of teaching. The definition of pedagogy does not indicate any age, but it came from the Greek words paidos meaning "child", and ágō meaning "lead"; hence pedagogy originally means "lead a child". Meanwhile, andragogy came from the Greek word andro, meaning "man", and combined with the same word for lead, andragogy means "lead a man". You can think of andragogy as a subset of pedagogy that focuses on adult learners.

Adult learners, according to many andragogical theories, must be instructed in ways different from children. When instructing or developing the learning program of adults, you need to consider the following:

  • Adults must understand why they should study anything.
  • Adults require internal motivation.
  • Adults want to know how learning benefits them.
  • Adults bring existing knowledge and experience to the table, which can serve as a foundation for their learning.
  • Adults are self-directed and want to be in control of their learning experience.
  • Adults derive the most value from task-oriented learning that is relevant to their own experiences.

Andragogical learning theories emphasize providing students with a knowledge of why they are doing something, plenty of hands-on experiences, and minimal instruction to face the problems on their own.

What motivates adults to learn?

Motivation is an essential factor for an adult to go through a learning process. The formation of learning motivations begins with early socialization, and such motivations are the product of learning and experience with content learned. Many potential adult learning participants are discouraged by the same school learning experience. It is equally important to recognize that intentions are always influenced by their social context.

Close up of the hands of two people shaking hands.

Motivation is a very broad notion. It encompasses concepts like effort, will, want, anticipation, interest, goal, among others. You cannot immediately determine the motivation of a person as an external observer. However, the presence of an individual's motivation may be deduced from the variety of actions through which they work to achieve a certain objective. Adults need practical motivations, especially at the start of their learning process. In practice, multiple motivations are used depending on the adult's overall circumstances.

Some examples of what motivates adult learners are as follows:

  • To improve their financial condition by obtaining higher education
  • To improve their overall professional standing
  • To change a job or shift careers
  • To obtain a certificate, diploma, or license, especially in fields where such formal documents are necessary

As a trainer, instructional designer, or someone who has a genuine interest in teaching adults, understanding adult learners can eventually help you develop a more effective instructional design. Recall those times where you were learning something, perhaps during training or when you are accessing an elearning course. Understanding how adults learn can help you guide others to learn.

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Last updated on 15 Nov 2021.

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