Adult Learning and Learning Styles

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Adult Learning and Learning Styles

When one thinks about education thoughts are naturally turned toward adolescents. In today’s society the media is quick to expose flaws in the educational system. One rarely thinks about the educational needs of adults, but for many adults there is a large need for continuing their education. One might venture to ask the question what is adult learning? According to Malcolm Knowles adult learning is a process of self-directed inquiry (Urological Nursing, 2006). Although there are many adults that are driven to continue their education, the idea can be overwhelming for most. It is best for the adult learner to prepare for the journey by knowing the process of adult learning, identifying the types of learning styles, and identifying one’s personal learning style. Assessing the level of the above traits and the readiness to learn will equip the adult learner with an arsenal of tools. Learning is defined as, a relatively permanent change in an organisms behavior (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner 2004). There are a multiple theories as to how people learn. The more popular theory is the Learning Theory. The learning theory encompasses five orientations to learning: Behaviorist, Humanist, Cognitivist, Social Cognitive, and Constructivist (Merriam et al., 2007). This paper will focus on the behaviorist aspect of learning, the permanent change in behavior. Understanding how and why adults learn will increase the chances of teaching success. The reason most adults enter any learning experience is to create change. This could encompass a change in (a.) their skills, (b.) behavior, (c.) knowledge level, or (d.) even their attitudes about things (Adult Education Center, 2005).

The degree of motivation is what separate adult learners from school age children, previous experience, engagement in the learning process, and applied learning. Adults learn best when convinced of the need for knowing the information (Urologic Nursing, 2006). For example, an employee who is offered a training opportunity that will directly impact one’s job will be more likely to take advantage of the opportunity, as compared to an employee whose training opportunity is not directly related to the employee’s job description. Adults have a greater depth, breath, and variation in the quality of previous life experiences than younger people (O’Brien, 2004). Former experiences can lead the adult learner to connect current learning to something learned in the past. For example, if an adult learner is taking an advance course in Accounting. One might be able to recall a mathematical strategy used previously in a basic course that can apply to the current accounting class. Utilizing experience in this fashion can lead to making the learning experience more meaningful. In a classic study, Rogers (1969) illustrated that when an adult learner has control over the nature, timing, and direction of the learning process, the entire experience is facilitated. Adults tend to be self-directed and decide what they want to learn. For instance, in today’s economy many adults have decided to return to school in order to become more marketable in the current economic slowdown. The website for the Higher Education Statistics Agency ( HESA) states that 24% of undergraduate students are now classified as mature students (i.e. 21 years of age), many of whom have arrived in university after completing a foundation-level access course at a further education college. Choosing to return to school allows learners to have more control over the educational process. It allows the adult learner to choose which program to enroll, and the level of commitment towards the program the learner is willing to give.

It is important to remember that in order to engage the adult learner and facilitate the transfer of knowledge, patience and time on the part of the teacher and learner are needed (Urologic Nursing, 2006). As skills and knowledge are...
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