Sunday, June 22, 2008

Teaching Adults: Is it Different?

In this article, we are going to see how adult learning is different from the way children learn. How is pedagogy different from androgogy? What are the four principles of adult learning and how to put these theories into practice?
First, let us see who is as an adult learner. Wikipedia says an adult learner is a socially accepted person who is involved in any learning process. Learning process can be any type of formal education, informal education or corporate-sponsored education. Teaching includes four elements learner, educator, subject matter and technique.

Let us see why adults learn. There can be very many reasons. Some of them are listed below:
· To keep up with the growing competition
· As part of job training
· For financial growth and benefits
· For self-improvement
· To acquire new skills

Now let us know about adult learning theory, Malcolm Knowles (1978, 1990) is the theorist who brought the concept of adult learning to the fore. He determined the principles of androgogy. Let us quickly know the differences between androgogy and pedagogy.
What are the principles of adult learning?
• Adults need to know why they need to learn something
• Adults need to learn experientially
• Adults approach learning as problem-solving
• Adults learn best when the topic is of immediate value
In simple words, learning material for the adults should be motivating, it should be experiential or practical, and it should have problem solving approach and should be of immediate value. Now let us look at each of the principles with examples to make it more precise and clear.

Motivational Learning:
• Learning should be meaningful
• The learner should be able to see the end-result of any training program
Example: You might attend a certain training program because if you perform better you might get a hike in your salary.
Look at this scenario to understand it better.
You are working in ABC Company. A training program has been scheduled, where you will be trained on MS-Word Application. Let us see the reaction of different employees who are short listed to attend the training program. These people had the following opinion for the training program as shown in the image below.
Experiential Learning:
• Learners should be asked to learn by exploring
• It is highly effective in corporate training
• Learners learn by doing
Example: A new application has been launched. You need to familiarize with it. You learn by exploring.
Look at this scenario to understand it better.
Rita works as a front office executive in a mobile store. She has to attend a training program where she will be taught how to handle customers. Two of the participants are asked to volunteer to role-play, one as front office executive and the other as a customer. The following piece of conversation took place between both of them.

Problem solving:
• Solving any problem drives learning
• This principle works best for medical students
• A problem is posed so that the students discover that they need to learn something new before they can solve the problem
Example: Medical students are asked to practice operating on dead bodies and then they actually operate live beings.
Look at this scenario to understand it better.
You are working as a trainee call centre executive in a certain company and as part of training program you have to learn how to handle complaints of various customers. To proceed further with this you need to know what do you know, what are you being asked? Now look at the problem-solving cycle to gain a better understanding.

As given in the diagram, you need to take the required action. That is you need to deal with the customer, listen to his/her problem. In the second step, you need to plan how to resolve the problem. In the third step, you need to reply the customer but you also need to check with your superior whether you are heading into the right direction or not before actually performing it.

Immediate value:
• The training program should have direct bearing upon their job
• The training program should be able to step-up the job search process
Example: You would learn certain application only when you will benefit from it immediately.
Look at this scenario to understand it better.
Assume that you and your colleagues are part of a training program, which involves receiving training on typing lesson. Look at what some of the people in that organization had to say.

Now let us see how to put these principles into practice:
• Lay down clear objectives of the course (need and motivation)
• Inform how they can make the most of training (motivation/immediate value)
• Just do not present learning materials but pose problems so as to induce learning (problem-solving)
• Include assessment and provide immediate feedback
• Offer reward or certificates after the successful completion of the course (immediate value)
• Give real life examples, simulation (experiential)
• Use diagrams wherever needed
To wrap up:
• Learning is a continuous process and is motivation driven
• Adults learn to keep up with the growing need of the industry and to compete
• Adults learn better where they are asked to express their experiences and prior knowledge


lakuma said...


Archana Narayan said...

Mousumi, nice post. Its true. It is very important for the adult learner to see the 'what-is-in-it-for-me'. Only if this is clear to them will the internal motivation to learn or complete a course be present.

Jennifer Kumar said...

Great post. Can I have permission to reuse some of the images from this post? I am a cross-cultural trainer in India. Thank you. Please email me at