People “… learn most effectively when they are responding to challenges that they know will directly and significantly affect their lives.” Malcolm S. Knowles
In Aotearoa New Zealand, Maori have a whakataukī about learning.
Whāia te ara Poutama – Pursue the pathway of education and betterment.
Poutama is the stepped pattern of tukutuku panels and woven mats – symbolising genealogies and also the various levels of learning and intellectual achievement. The pattern is often used in policy or in institutions to symbolise that learning happens in a scaffolded way. I have taken the idea and related it to my Hapara online learning this year. First I learnt what it was like to be a learner in the Hapara System and learnt how to work alongside other Hapara Champions in the world to complete course work when undertaking my Hapara Champion Certification. Next I learnt about the role of the teacher in learning and I learnt more about the importance of pedagogical and content knowledge in the Hapara Scholar Certification course. Now I am learning about andragogy and how adults learn so that I may better cater for the teachers that I work with while completing the Hapara Trainer Certification.
My current assignment is to develop a philosophy around training tech to adults. However it has developed much more than that in me because as an adult learner I have made several links with my own learning and have made links with several online projects I have lead and been involved in. So in order to complete this assignment I have read several articles given to us on the course as well as searched further articles and videos to deepen my learning around adult learners. What follows is an unpacking of this learning. If you have time I would love to hear your thoughts about when you have worked with adults and let me know if what I have written is even close to developing a training teaching philosophy.
I am particularly interested in your thoughts if you are registered facilitator or if you are an across school leader in a Kāhui Ako. However maybe you might also have been at the receiving end of professional learning and can contribute some personal thinking to help deepen my understanding around adult learning.
Adult Learners Overview
As a course designer first and foremost is identifying the characteristics of the adult learner being helped and learn empathy for the learner by being an active learner too. Next, learn the subject well enough to enlighten the learner and learn the process of assessing the learners comprehension level. In addition it is important to understand andragogy which is all about how adults learn best and how different this is from pedagogy. Consideration must also be given to the stages of learning that happens as part of the process of learning. Finally as a course designer review previous courses and reflect on areas for change that better meet the needs of the adult learners.
Identify the characteristics of the adult learners
Pappas wrote about characteristics that exist (to some degree) in every adult learner and stressed the importance of understanding these especially in designing courses.
Adult learners are generally self-directed learners therefore learning needs to be structured in a way that lets them assess their progress at individual levels. Te Kete Ipurangi reminds us that “What matters most is not so much the form of the assessment, but how the information gathered is used to improve teaching and learning.”
Adult learners rely on their personal reservoir of life experience. For this reason learning needs to be immersive enough to compete with all the other distractions.
Adult learners are ready to learn based on a need so if the learner sees that they are making progress or learning something useful, then they will stick with it. One idea is to provide increments of learning in the way of digital badges such as can be seen in Digital Packbags or in certificates that acknowledge course completion.
Adult learners desire knowledge for immediate application and consequently require deeper functional knowledge that can be translated into everyday use. A key strategy is using self help videos that can be slowed down, paused and re wound depending on the rate of learning.
Adults learn best when learning is focused on them, not the teacher. Learning experiences should be based around lived experiences, because people learn what they need to know. According to Malcolm Knowles, ‘Andragogy is the art and science of adult learning.’ Therefore andragogy refers to any form of adult learning. There is an excellent video by Janet Finlay that explains andragogy and can be viewed here. The video compares andragogy and pedagogy as well as explains the six adult learning traits developed by Knowles in detail. Below four traits have been highlighted.
Adult Learner Experience: As a person matures he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
Readiness to Learn: As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental task of his/her social roles.
Orientation of learning: As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his/her orientation towards learning shifts from one of subject- centeredness to one of problem centeredness.
Motivation to Learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal.
The stages of learning
Mezirow, 1990 identified transformational learning as “The process of recognising, analysing and making deliberate changes to the assumptions that we have that cause us to think act and behave in certain ways.” Mezirow states that learning is a “process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of ones experience in order to guide future action”. This type of learning occurs when one’s beliefs or “meaning scheme” changes due to new information and ideas. These changes may occur quickly, or take place over a longer period of time.
Identification of a Dilemma or a Crisis: The realisation that we had all along been holding on to wrong beliefs or that we don’t know what we should know is often a trigger to dig in and unearth information or review our mindsets and thought patterns. Not knowing or realising that we have the wrong information is a crisis that is deeply upsetting to all of us. You have to point out to your learners what they don’t know to make them curious about your course.
Establishment of Personal Relevance: This is the context or the answer to the eternal “what’s-in-it-for-me” question that inspires people and drives learning. The context can be personal, professional, or social, and you should establish it right at the beginning of the course to spike interest and reiterate it often to keep learners hooked. Adult learners are motivated to learn when they can envision the results of their efforts.
Critical Thinking: Adult learners are sensible, rational people with minds of their own. So it is important to create opportunities for critical reflection (premise reflection) to encourage them to re-examine their beliefs and attitudes.
When learners have the opportunity to sort through their feelings and thoughts and realise on their own what they need to shed or tweak, they will be more willing to accept and embed the learning.
Areas for change
Teaching adults is really about understanding that learning is about good teaching.
The more learners are actively involved, the better they learn. Words like self efficacy and agentic learner come to mind as well as ensuring that the task is as Hattie would say the “Goldilocks theory of Just right.” Good teaching is all about the learner being at the centre of learning and that the tasks are just challenging enough to motivate the learner forward.
Course designers must actively involve adult participants in the learning process and serve as facilitators for them. Treat learners with manakitanga which is respect, understanding, and genuine concern. Adult learners need to know why they need to learn something so ensure that there are well-defined objectives.
Adults approach learning as a problem solving and they learn best when the topic has immediate value. Therefore establish clear directions based on the adult learners needs.
Adults learners learn experientially so ensure that content is meaningful and transferable to the adult learners’ world. Adults learners approach learning as problem solving so provide opportunities for them to work together and to share their knowledge and experiences. Help adult learners to see their learning by providing incentives to earn badges, certificates and to reflect on their learning. Also give them opportunities to give feedback to the sessions because feedback is a key action expected of all learning.
Finlay, Janet. (2010, May 17). Andragogy (Adult Learning). Retrieved September 28, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLoPiHUZbEw&feature=youtu.be
Graham, Steve. (2007, May 22). A Simple, Easy To Understand Guide To Andragogy. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.cornerstone.edu/blogs/lifelong-learning-matters/post/a-simple-easy-to-understand-guide-to-andragogy
Hattie, John (2008). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. NY: Routledge.
Mezirow, Jack. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons Inc.
New Zealand Ministry of Education TKI (n.d.).What is assessment for learning? Retrieved September 18, 2018, from http://assessment.tki.org.nz/Assessment-for-learning/Underlying-principles-of-assessment-for-learning/What-is-assessment-for-learning
Pappas, Christopher. (2018, January 23). Adult Learner Characteristics: 7 Key Points To Consider. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from https://elearningindustry.com/adult-learner-characteristics-key-points-consider
Van Schaijik, Sonya. (2018, April 22). Not too hard or soft but just right. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://sonyavanschaijik.com/2016/09/07/not-too-hard-or-soft-but-just-right