Characteristics of Adult Learning

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1.2. Characteristics of adult learning
Education of children is compulsory, formal and standardized. Adult learning is voluntary and intentional. The aim of adult education is the independent self-directed learner. Adults tend to resist a learning process which is incongruent with their self-concept as autonomous individuals and does not correspond to their needs and interests. Adult learning is learner-centered

What children learn in school should be useful to them — but later in life. Child learning is subject-centered. Adult learning is learner-centered. Adults focus on direct application. Given their daily obligations in job, profession, family and community they learn to cope with the pressures and problems of life they are facing. In consequence the adult educator’s concern is not only and not even primarily the logical development of a subject matter but the needs and interests of the learners. "Andragogy (adult education) calls for program builders and teachers who are person-centered, who don’t teach subject matter but rather help persons learn" (Knowles). However, the interests of adults are their real needs. Or the solutions learners have in mind do not solve their problems. The adult educator often has to enter into a "needs negotiation" (Bhola) with learners when teaching new needs about boiled water or a balanced diet, about clean surroundings, preventive health practices or small families. In the dialectical process of needs negotiation the needs as felt by the learners and the needs as seen by the adult educators must be brought together to reach a consensus on the "real" needs. These real needs must correspond to the experience of adult learners. If an adult gets the impression that his experience is not being valued he feels rejected as a person. New learnings take on meaning as adults are able to relate them to their life experience. Experienced adult educators, therefore, build into the design of their learning experiences provision for the learners to plan and rehearse how they are going to apply their learnings in their day-to-day lives or duties and combine training with transfer and application. A workshop then really can become a workplace where educational materials are produced or evaluation studies are designed. Adult learning is social learning

According to Knox’s proficiency theory the learning needs for an adult arise from life situations and interpersonal communication. Social expectation motivates and empowers an adult to search for more knowledge, better proficiency and more suitable performance. Adult learning is based on experience, on the learners’ own experience and on the experience of others. Learning settings of adults usually have a participatory and collaborative element. Adults prefer to meet as equals in small groups to explore issues and concerns and then to take common action as a result of dialogue and inter-learning by discourse. The group becomes the "learning co-operative". The group provides the opportunity for inter-learning. Within the group the teacher as well as the other group members play the role of facilitators. All group members become "co-agents" (Bhola) in learning. The absence of formal accreditation or certification facilitates collaboration not only on a specific product or outcome but even in structuring and restructuring the learning process according to the needs and interests of the group. The learning process becomes as important as the learning outcome, and a balance between both is often difficult to maintain. How much freedom can actually be given to the adult learner in choice of content and method? Adult learning is active learning

Adult learning is life-centered. It is learning by doing, by application and experience, and if need be by trail and error. Adults do not simply receive knowledge created by outsiders, but should examine their own reality themselves and make assertions about it. "Praxis" is the focus of effective adult learning and...
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