Learning has never been as important as it is in today’s chaotic society. Technology is changing more rapidly than ever before and according to the US Department of Labor, statistics from the current population survey unemployment rates are higher than they have been since 1984. (United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2009). Goal setting and benchmarking support the principles of adult learning; aid the adult learner in being more competitive in today’s job market; and help prepare adults to achieve their goals. I will look at adult learner characteristics, why learning is important, goal setting and benchmarking and how they tie into adult learning. Adult Learners
Let’s start with adult learners in general. While there are many different theories, practices, and principles to adult learning, there are some general characteristics that will help to lay the foundation of how adults learn. Malcolm Knowles, a key contributor in laying the foundation in the field of adult learning, identified the following characteristics of adult learners: •
Adults are autonomous and self-directed.
Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. They need to connect learning to this knowledge/experience base. •
Adults are goal-oriented their readiness to learn is tied to their need to learn or reach a goal. Upon enrolling in a course, they usually know what goal they want to attain. They, therefore, appreciate an educational program that is organized and has clearly defined elements. •
Adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning something. Learning has to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities to be of value to them. •
Adults are practical and task focused, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work. •
As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect. (ASTD Press, 2006, pp 4-5) Another study in adult learning was done by Brundage. “In his own comprehensive survey, Brookfield (1986) discusses six ‘principles of effective practice in facilitating learning’… (voluntary participation, mutual respect, collaborative spirit, action and reflection, critical reflection, and self-direction)” (Foley & Griff, 2004, pp. 86) While we can see that adults are thought to be self-directed, want learning to be relevant, and are goal/action oriented, what drives adults to learn? “Learning is central to human life – as essential as work or friendship. As the American experiential learning theorist David Kolb (1984) has noted, learning is human beings’ primary mode of adaptation: if we don’t learn we may not survive, and we certainly won’t prosper.” (Foley & Griff, 2004, pp. 4) If we don’t continue to change and adapt, or as stated above “if we don’t learn we may not survive.” For many adults, there has to be an immediate need or future goal that prompts them to learn. In today’s environment, learning can no longer be an option if we hope to compete in the job market and achieve our goals. But how do goals aid the adult learner? Goals
Goal setting is one more tool in a persons’ tool box. “Goals are marker posts you drive into the future landscape between where you are and where you want to be. They focus attention productively. Goals are the future and get people going.” (Blanchard & Bowles, 1998, pp. 170) Goals help keep learners on track, help measure progress and provide an accountability measure. They also help learners to be more self-directed in their approach to learning. The learner can use goal setting in a variety of ways to include preparing for promotions, career development, preparing for a changing environment, i.e., new software, or to achieve business or personal financial goals. Once the learner has established goals, benchmarking can help the learner determine a method or approach to reach those goals....
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