Research Paper: Adult Learning
Education beyond high school, even beyond a Bachelors degree is a critical requirement to obtain a decent rewarding employment in today’s society. However, many individuals do not graduate high school or college for many reasons: unexpected pregnancies, lack of family support, need of financial aid, etc. These individuals who return to some kind of higher education later in life are known as adult learners, or the non-traditional students. Adult learners over age 24 currently comprise about 44 percent of U.S. postsecondary students. (Kahiz, 2007) These individuals make up a group of students who differ from traditional students. An adult learner possesses any of the following criteria: married or divorced, have dependents, earned a GED, is a veteran, or is twenty-five years old or older. “Adult learners include the fifty- something grandmother, as well as the 18-year-old mother of an infant. The thirty-something man who is changing careers due to complications of diabetes is an adult leaner, as is the 22-year-old Marine veteran.” (2001) There are also differences between adult learners and traditional-student learners when they experience learning. First, adults are people with years of experience and a wealth of information and have established values, beliefs and opinions. Dirkx, Lavin (Zemke 1984) and Pelavin (Tuijnman, 1995) state that these learners vary widely among ages, abilities, job experiences, cultural backgrounds, and personal goals; and range in educational backgrounds from no formal schooling through many years of schooling. In Addition, adult learners carry well-developed personal identities. Second, adults relate new knowledge and information to previously learned information and experiences. Adult learners want to be able to relate content to specific contexts in their lives. These contexts are often in the form of a problem issue or concern in their worksite. Third, adults have pride and have a deep need to be self-directing. Adult learners prefer to have some degree of control over their learning. They may evidence a greater or lesser degree of self-directedness depending upon their maturity level and familiarity with the content. Finally, adults tend to have a problem-centered orientation to learning. Learners have differing degrees of self-efficacy and awareness of their own learning styles. They may feel embarrassed about returning to school or to join classes with younger students. They hold negative impressions of their own abilities or negative impressions of schools and teachers. (“Principles of Adult Learning,” 1988) According to, A Quarterly Summary of Challenges to Student Learning (2001), non-traditional students exhibit a wider range of differences, more sharply etched. They have multiple demands and responsibilities in terms of time, energy, emotions and roles. They hold a richer array of ongoing experiences and responsibilities. Adult learners have more concern for practical application, less patience with theory, and less trust in abstractions. They have greater self-determination and acceptance of responsibility. Finally, these students have a greater need to cope with transitions and with existential issues of competence, emotions, autonomy, identity, relationships, purpose and integrity. Since this group of adult learners is more heterogeneous than traditional students, educators and institutions should and must change the way they interact with and provide services for these individuals. In order to do so, higher education providers first need to fully comprehend adult learning. Stephen Brookfield (Tuinjman, 1995) states that “despite the plethora of journals, books and research conferences devoted to adult learning across the world, we are very far from a universal understanding of adult learning”. Brookfield also mentions that adult learning is inherently joyful, and adults are innately self-directed learners. Good educational...
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