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Adult Education

dult education, formally known as “androgogy”, can be defined as the set of specific skills and associated knowledge geared towards the educational development of adults. It emphasizes that fact that adults are self-oriented and expected the responsibility to make their own decisions. Adults don’t learn in the same way as children do because their personality structure is almost fully developed at that stage in their lives, along with a series of habits and practices that have been acquired during their lifetime.

Therefore, the learning process must take into account how an adult perceives not only what is being taught, but also themselves; this includes, but is not limited to: considering their previous learning experiences, considering their temporal perspective – especially when it comes to short term application of what is being taught, and matching education to their problems, needs, interests and expectations.

The principles of adult education are:

1) Adults will only learn when they want to. Simply put, no adult will learn under pressure. They must be motivated to want to acquire new knowledge or skills that will help them in their work or day-to-day life. Thus, their desire to learn can decrease or increase depending on the approach and methodology that is being used.

2) Adults will only learn when they feel they need to. Basically, any attained knowledge will only “make sense” if the adult can see the applicability of what is being learned, and this will usually have to happen at a very early stage in the learning process in order to keep interest alive. Adults only really want to learn that which will help them in the short term.

3) Adults learn by doing. No adult enjoys being fed vast amounts of theory with little or no practice. As we grow older, we much prefer a “hands-on” approach to things. The learning will be much more effective if we can take an active role in the learning process. Thus it’s important to encourage objective discussion both in analyzing the problem and coming up with a solution.

4) Adults will only learn by solving problems they can associate with their reality. If they can’t apply what is being learned to some issue they have to deal with in their lives, the learning process will be significantly hindered. Thus adult education must pay less attention to analyzing documented case studies and imaginary scenarios and focus on “real world” problems and practical assimilation of what is being taught.

5) Experience will interfere in adult education. No person likes to be told that their “tried an tested” way of doing things is “wrong”. Thus, any new information being presented must be integrated with their own experience in such a way as to complement or even supplement what they already know. Categorically labeling something as the “right” or “best” way is a pitfall that should be avoided.

6) Adults learn better in an informal environment. At this point in their lives, adults won’t put up with a “schoolhouse lecturer” who demands that they sit up straight in their desks. They require a more relaxed atmosphere; one that will stimulate them to participate, thus allowing them to accept every ounce of new knowledge as a product that will solve an issue they are dealing with.

7) Adults need feedback. If one thing is preserved from their childhood days, it’s the constant need to know how well they are doing. So, it’s important that learning process provide adults with constructive feedback, through the use of artifices such as self-evaluation questionnaires and activities.

8) Adults require a variety of teaching methods. It’s important that different approached be used when trying to pass on knowledge to adults. The use of audiovisual materials is highly recommended; as is the use of interactive activities such as role-playing, mock classes and presentations from the students. One of the most effective techniques that can be used to finish off a training program is to have the adults, either individually or in groups, prepare a small (5 minute) presentation on some aspect or subject that was covered in the course. This will help the instructor to get an idea of how well the information has been absorbed, as well as allow the “students” to put into practice some of what they have learned in a controlled environment.

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