The specifics of adult learning
Every person develops personal strategies and mechanisms in order to be able to master the situations which arise in daily life, and as a result tests these strategies and instruments to see if they are functional and successful. One person’s use of an instrument may lead them to their goal, while the same instrument is unusable for another person. There are no correct or incorrect instruments. As a person grows older and more experienced, the person’s instruments become ever more polished and stable. Sometimes trainers are easily tempted in such situations to assume that adult learners are less able to learn. Yet a refusal or obvious “non-learning” from such individuals generally has nothing whatsoever to do with the ability to learn, rather much more with the protection of their own strategies and thereby of their own personality.
According to Malcolm Knowles, instructors should consider the 6 principles of adult learning: (1) Adults are internally motivated and self-directed.
(2) The information adults have gained over a life time is useful. It’s crucial to use this in the learning process.
(3) Adults are goal—oriented. We should trigger this ability and we should trigger their natural problem-solving tendencies, preferably ones aligning with personal professional aims and ambitions. Appropriate case studies are very effective. They need to be challenged with questions that facilitate reflection, inquiry and further research.
(4) Adults are relevancy- oriented. They want to learn about the things that they view as important, not what a teacher or school views as important. Once they recognize that a learning activity provides a new skill they can actually use, they will work harder and learn more deeply.
(5) Adults are practical. Real-life application is very appealing to them because they see the real value of applying the new knowledge.
(6)They like to be respected. Instructors should encourage them to express themselves, their ideas, their thinking. Treating them as colleagues, eliciting their feedback and involving them definitely brings more value in the learning process.
This occurs via the so-called “participant-activating” methods: Within the framework of these methods a participant is presented with a problem, and they have to deal with this problem actively. The experience from this action is then jointly reflected upon in the group. For this reason we call this learning “experiential learning”. The question as to how stable an individual’s outlook, or better yet, their strategies and instruments are, is not primarily a result of a person’s actual age, rather of the amount of experience and problem situations which they have gone through. In addition, for adults it is of particular importance that there be a chance for the comparison of their instruments with those of others in order that they may judge their success themselves. They are more likely to be persuaded by the directly visible success of a different strategy than by a trainer lecturing down to them. Thus, for better results, all the above aspects should be considered when crafting learning interventions for adults.