Sunday, 31 January 2016

Characteristics of Adult Learners - Passionate, Precise, and Practical

Malcolm Knowles developed a six-point list outlining characteristics of adult learners:

  • Self-directed
  • Utilizes lifelong experience
  • Goal-oriented
  • Relevancy-oriented
  • Focused on practicality
  • Collaborative in nature.

This article takes Knowles' six-item list a little deeper and expands the notions in practical terms, but essentially develops the same picture of a focused, practical learner with a lifetime of experience behind him or her, and an eye on the prize of skill development and self-direction.

This comic on the expectations placed on learners of all ages
demonstrates how some learners are sold short.
Original artist: unknown.
Comparatively speaking, we tend to teach children as though they are empty vessels waiting to be filled. They are busy and sporadic and require full-breadth knowledge to be based on a foundation of basics. We feel as educators and parents that we have the bigger picture of what, when, and how children should learn. Though most progressive educators, homeschoolers, distributed learning teachers, and some private school teachers will say children's education should indeed be self-directed, goal-oriented, practical, and collaborative, the general system doesn't support this so we are left with a divide that in many ways leads to the importance of adults learning later in life.

In a classroom setting, self-directed, goal-focused projects would be my main objectives. How can we engage learners to reverse engineer their education so they begin with what they want to know and get there in a way that is condusive to their own abilities, knowledge, culture, and self-prescribed learning outcomes?

I like the idea of individualizing some components of curriculum, but also leaving students to struggle through the tricky parts a little. Like this article says, if we tailor every single lesson to a person's specific needs, they develop their strengths rather than their weaknesses, and in my world learning / teaching is twofold -- learning what to learn and learning how to learn. Though students would all have a taste of different types of learning and expression, and would have to move out of their comfort zones now and again, I would provide project options -- written, art, recorded, hands-on, constructive, destructive that clearly outline how the skills have been learned and how that material is individually expressed. I would meet students at a place of commonality -- why are we hear? Where do we want to go? How are we all going to get there?

Based on the assumption students would get to the final learning outcomes in different ways, collaboration would be the goal in sharing these different paths. Sharing the process and final projects in groups or privately, outlining the various ways to see, feel, and experience learning, and showing how different people can get to the same place differently is an essential part of learning the skill and of learning how to be in the world.

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