Adult Learning Theories
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Because adult learners are so different from traditional students, it is no wonder that a series of theorists have developed approaches and guidelines for meeting the needs of this unique population. Some of these theorists emphasize the teaching style used; others place their focus on the strategies that should be used to motivate students themselves. There tends to be very little in common between these various theories, other than the population they each strive to serve.
There are an ever-increasing amount of adult learning theories but the main ones are:
Malcolm Knowles, for example, developed the theory of andragogy; this embodies a series of rules and guidelines for educating adult learners, each of which is based upon the unique differences between this population and the “traditional” student. Others identify transformational learning as the only effective approach for adult learners. Through this educational theory, students are encouraged to take information and lessons learned within the confines of the classroom and challenge their own outlook on the rest of the world as well as their behaviors. This type of learning can lead to profound changes in the students’ lives.
Adult Learning Theories and Gardner
Other theorists focus on the type of intelligence displayed by adult learners; because they can reach components of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences that are not traditionally reached in a younger classroom, the learning environment and its components are fundamentally different. Others yet focus on the environment in question: by focusing on self-guided learning at the student’s own pace, they contend that adult learning can be very individualized and independent, as the students are themselves. Whatever approach utilized, it is clear that adult learners enter the classroom environment with a different set of skills and needs than other groups, and, as such, should be approached in an entirely different fashion.
Another theory is the Conditions of Learning Theory proposed by Robert Gagne. Gagne’s theory states that there are different ways for adults to learn. In order for these learning differences to take place, instruction must be differentiated for students based on their learning styles. His theory states that there are five different types of learning. These are the verbal information, intellectual skills, motor skills, attitudes, and cognitive strategies. According to Gagne, there are certain conditions that are necessary for learning. It is important that the teacher “hook” the learner by peaking his or her interest at the beginning of a lesson. Instructors should explain to the learners the expected outcomes or objectives of the lesson. Teachers should pull on the learner’s previous knowledge in order to make connections. After instructional, learners need to be given time to practice and feedback should be given to the learners. After practice, instructors should assess the student’s process toward objective mastery.
Adult Learning Theories and Problem-based Learning
Another type of learning is problem-based learning. With problem based learning, less importance is placed on the teacher and lecture type of lessons. Students are expected to learn through situational problems. This type of instructional model requires students to teach themselves through discovery.
Active learning is another educational theory associated with adult learning theory. Active learning requires the student to be engaged in his or her learning. Active learning requires less of the teacher and more of the student. Adults who learn through role playing, experiments, problem based learning, and participate in case-studies are active learners.