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Adult Learning: Features and Challenges Research Paper

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Updated: May 27th, 2020

Adult learning involves matters related to adult education. Adult education refers to the practice of educating as well as teaching mature people. The interested parties can get access to adult learning facilities within various areas. For instance, in certain workplaces, the management can make arrangements to have part of the staff undergo the adult learning process through the provision of the necessary facilities such as well equipped adult learning libraries. Most of the organizations make such arrangements to enable their adult staff to gain the newly introduced job skills, which are relevant in their line of duty. In addition to the workplace adult learning, some higher education learning institutions offer adult learning services through ‘extension’ schools such as the Harvard Extension or ‘the continuing education schools’ (Rothwell, 2008).

Nevertheless, those who cannot afford the aforementioned adult learning places because of the high costs associated with them can access cheaper facilities offered within community colleges, lifelong learning centers along with folk high schools. Adult learning is, on other occasions, termed as ‘Training and Development,’ which is mostly associated with professional development. Other terms such as andragogy have also been used by various authors while referring to adult learning with the key objective of distinguishing it from pedagogy (McCook, 2011). However, it is essential to note that adult learning is considerably unique and should not be confused with vocational education (MacKeracher, 2004). Vocational education is usually a workplace-based adult learning process, which is only aimed at improving the skills of the workforce.

It is essential to note that adult learners possess distinct learning requirements along with needs, which are quite different from the teens or even the children. Malcolm Knowles, who is considered as the pioneer of adult learning, came up with various adult learners’ characteristics, which the adult learners’ instructors should comprehend to assist effectively such learners to find learning enjoyable and beneficial. Knowles specified that the concerned instructors should remain aware of the fact that most adults are self-directed, as well as autonomous. This implies that they should be presented with the opportunity of directing themselves. In that regard, the instructors should ensure that the adults are actively involved in the learning process. Actually, the instructors should only undertake the role of facilitators in the adult learning process (Ross-Gordon, 2003). Adult learners should be allowed to assume the responsibility of making group presentations on top of exercising group leadership. Therefore, instead of the instructors issuing adult learners with diverse theoretical facts, they should professionally guide them to their individual knowledge.

Adult learners’ instructors should also put into consideration that the adult learners possess a vibrant knowledge along with life experiences foundation. This may be because of family responsibilities, work-related duties in addition to previous education. In respect to this aspect, there is a need for the instructors to ensure that the learning process is well connected to the adult learners’ knowledge or even experience base. Nevertheless, this can be achieved in the event that the instructors are in a position of relating the various theories along with concepts to the learners’ experience.

Therefore, the instructors must prioritize the significance of experience within the adult learning process. Moreover, while dealing with adult learners, the instructors should bear in their minds that adults are considerably practical. Therefore, the most focus should be directed towards the lesson aspects, which seem to be relatively useful to their learning needs and work requirements. It will not be weird to find out that most adult learners harbor no interest in acquiring knowledge just for the sake of it. It may, therefore, turn out as necessary to inform the learners of the essence of undertaking the various lessons.

It will also be crucial for adult learners’ instructors to factor out that all adult learners are goal-oriented. Upon showing interest in undertaking certain courses, they are usually aware of the main goal, which they should achieve upon the completion of the course. Therefore, in that regard, the education program should comprise of sufficiently defined elements on top of being well organized to meet their expectations. Besides, the instructors should enlighten the learners on how various classes will assist them in realizing their goals. Therefore, all the courses meant for adult learners should have clearly outlined course objectives.

In addition, the classification of goals should be undertaken in an easily understandable manner, which will allow the learners to get rid of any worries or fears of being subjected to unnecessary courses. In that same perspective, it will be vital to factor in the aspect that the majority of the adult learners are relatively relevancy-oriented (Cranton, 1996). This means that every reason for learning something should be adequately specified. Learning should thus have some value to their workplace or any other relevant area of their interest.

Therefore, prior to commencing adult learning classes, the instructors should properly comprehend the adult participants’ objectives. Moreover, the concepts, along with theories to be introduced to the adult learners, should be presented through the setting, which is familiar to them. To meet the relevancy-oriented requirement, adult learners should be involved in the choosing of learning projects, which make the true reflection of their individual interests (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). All in all, adult learners should be respected, just like any other learner. It has been established that all learners prefer being treated with the necessary respect in order to make the learning process enjoyable.

In addition to comprehending the adult learners’ characteristics, there are four significant elements, which should be employed by the instructors in order to ensure that such learners successfully realize their learning objectives. These elements include aspects such as motivation, retention, reinforcement, as well as transference. Motivation is the most crucial element, which can assist adult learners in realizing their learning goals. It would be meaningless to make concerted efforts in educating adult learners without motivating them. Motivation involves assisting the learners in recognizing the need for acquiring the information being offered to them. Motivation can be achieved through the establishment of a formidable rapport between the learners, along with the instructors, in order to make them ready for the learning process (MacKeracher, 2004).

There are various methods, which the instructors can make use of in their endeavor to motivate the adult learner. For instance, the instructors can set a friendly learning atmosphere for every lesson. The learning atmosphere should be designed in such a manner that the adult learners develop the desire to attend even more lessons. In addition to that, the concern level expected from the learners should be adjusted in such a way that it effectively meets the learners’ objective without lots of pressurization. It should be observed that people prefer learning under minimum stress; therefore, too much stress will turn out as a barrier to learning. Besides, the instructors should ensure that the difficulty level is at agreeable standards. The level of difficulty should only be sufficient to challenge the learners but not relatively high, such that the learners are subjected to frustrating conditions, which are characterized by information, overload (McCook, 2011). Participation should be adequately rewarded, and most definitely, the adult learning process will realize success.

Concerning the retention element, the adult learners should be sensitized on the essence of retaining the information obtained from classes to find the learning process quite beneficial (Ross-Gordon, 2003). The adult learning process fails to meet its objective in the event that the learners end up retaining none of the information introduced to them. Information can only be retained if the learners are assisted to comprehend, interpret, as well as, apply it. The learners’ information retention ability is affected in a direct proportion by the degree of practice they are exposed to while undertaking the learning process. The instructors are, therefore, expected to focus mainly on introducing various retention and application techniques to the adult learners (Cranton, 1996). Moreover, adult learners have to demonstrate the required performance in order to be considered to have benefited from the adult learning process. Additionally, the learners should be encouraged to practice, as well as maintain the acquired information.

The other element, which plays a significant role in the adult learning process, is reinforcement. It is through reinforcement that the instructors get to enlighten the learners on the required modes of behavior along with performance. There are two types of reinforcement; that is, positive reinforcement along with negative reinforcement. The positive reinforcement is utilized mostly by the instructors who are teaching novel skills to adult learners. This kind of reinforcement is vital in reinforcing “good” behavior on the learners. On the other hand, negative reinforcement involves the contingent eradication of any noxious stimulus, which tends to encourage a certain behavior (Foley, 2004).

It should be noted that the behavior could not be totally eradicated through reinforcement. Punishments, along with Time Out, are the only means through which a certain behavior can be completely eradicated. However, the instructors should make use of both positive versus negative reinforcement in order to change undesired behaviors effectively. The correct behavior within the teaching-learning scenario can only be realized through the appropriate application of reinforcement. The instructors should, therefore, apply it in a frequent and consistent manner in order to ensure that the learners retain all that has been discussed in class. Besides, it will also ensure that learners adopt positive and consistent behaviors.

Finally, on top of putting into consideration the various aspects aforementioned in this paper, the transference element should not be overlooked while undertaking adult learning. Transference refers to the capability of applying the information acquired from the adult learning courses within a new setting. Transference also comes in both positive, as well as negative forms (Caffarella, 1993). Positive transference comes about in the event that the learners successfully put what they have learned into use. On the other hand, negative transference takes place once the learners avoid all the ‘don’ts’ specified by their instructors in the course of their training. Even though adult learning can experience diverse barriers, the instructors should be adequately equipped with various strategies, which can enable them to resolve such barriers successfully.

Reference List

Caffarella, R. S. (1993). Self-directed learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 57(10), 25–35.

Cranton, P. (1996). Professional Development as Transformative Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Foley, G. (2004). Dimensions of adult learning: Adult education and training in a global era. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

MacKeracher, D. (2004). Making sense of adult learning. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McCook, K. P. (2011). Introduction to Public Librarianship. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman.

Merriam, S., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Ross-Gordon, J. (2003). Adult Learners in the Classroom. New Directions for Student Services, 7(2), 43–52.

Rothwell, W. (2008). Adult learning basics. Alexandria: ASTD Press.

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