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Adult Learning Theory and Teachers as Learners

Adult Learning Theory and Teachers as Learners


In this lesson, students analyze adult learning theory and its role in teacher professional development/growth

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Hello there and welcome. With so many ways for teachers to improve their practice it becomes important to look at them through the lens of adult learning theories. In this lesson we'll take a look at the role that those theories play in professional development. So let's get started.

As teachers we are in the unique position of being both the receivers and facilitators of learning. Therefore when we work with students it's important for us to have a solid understanding of pedagogy, how youngsters learn. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, or parent, as an adult your efforts are focused on teaching that child. However teachers must also remember the other hat they wear, that of a learner. Therefore it's important to understand one's own learning, as well as how other adults learn. This is called andragogy.

Having an awareness of both your students' needs as well as your own or the adults that you work with will support your practice and help you be more responsive in meeting the needs of others. With that professional learning, growth, and development, also comes the feeling of self-efficacy, which is important to building capacity in a site based management system. But that's not the only advantage.

Self-efficacy is having the belief in your ability to accomplish a goal. Just imagine what you can do for yourself and others with that. You would be able to implement change, impact improvements, and sustain continuous improvement efforts with districts, schools, colleagues, and most importantly yourself.

The earliest mention of the term adult learners was in the 1830's. It was first use by a German teacher named Alexander Kapp to draw a distinction between adult and child learners. Since then there have been a multitude of models, sets of assumptions and principles, theories, and explanations that make up the field of adult learning. Despite this, up until the 1970's those who were teaching adults still relied mainly on information and approaches that came from psychology.

Things began to change in 1968 when an adult instructor at a Boston YMCA named Malcolm Knowles begin to develop adult learning theories. Even today education for adults doesn't have any clear boundaries. It doesn't have a clearer age group like elementary and secondary. And it doesn't have a defined mission like higher education. This makes it difficult to define and pin point.

Fortunately researchers like Sharan Merriam have helped us to understand that it's not so much about the definition but it's recognizing how an adult's life situation is different from that of a child and what that means for learning. Early on in the field of adult education a key difference between adult and children's learning was the adults life experiences.

And it's true. As adults we of course have gained more life experiences than that of a child. This also means our needs and interests are far different not of a child. The differences don't end there however. Another factor is the stage of life that we're in. For children learning is constantly on their mind. It's what they do to become prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood. On the other hand, for us as adults learning is just one of many activities that we need to make time for in between responsibilities like family, career, military, or community.

We all learn differently and as a result there's no single theory of learning that can be applied to all adult learners. However there are three overarching adult learning theories I want to introduce you to that will come up in this course. They are, andragogy, the art and science of helping adults learn based on six key assumptions about adult learning.

Self-directed learning, a process in which individuals take the initiative in planning, carrying out, and evaluating their own learning. And transformational learning, learning that changes the way individuals think about themselves fundamentally and their world. And that involves a shift in consciousness. By understanding these theories designers of professional developments can create more effective opportunities for adult learners.

As I mentioned earlier adult learning theories can provide insight into how adults learn. This is called andragogy. Rather than the focus on students and their learning needs, which is called pedagogy. From a teacher's point of view these theories help us become more effective in our practice and more responsive to the needs of others. In today's professional learning communities, social learning and collaboration is encouraged.

Now more than ever teachers are working with other adults in learning situations and not only in professional development sense but also in peer coaching, critical friends groups, and many other models of adult learning. If you are fortunate to be in a district that provides you with a mentor you know the value of this type of collaboration. With so much to learn today adults find themselves being receivers as much as facilitators of learning.

And now it's time to take a look back on what we covered. We began by talking about the teacher as an adult learner and delved into when that line of thinking began. We introduced some important researchers in the field as well as three adult learning theories, andragogy, self-directed learning, and transformational learning. We also touched upon how these relate to educators and their professional development.

And now for today's food for thought. Reflect on a recent learning experience that you had that wasn't necessarily related to education. What made it effective or ineffective? To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, check out the additional resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material. As always thanks so much for watching. We'll see you next time.

Notes on "Adult Learning Theory and Teachers as Learners"

(00:00-00:16) Intro

(00:17-01:30) Teachers As Adult Learners

(01:31-02:10) Adult Learners

(02:11-03:19) Adult Education

(03:20-04:07) Adult Learning Theories

(04:08-04:56) Adult Learning And Teaching

(04:57-05:47) Summary/Food For Thought

Additional Resources

Professional Development: Characteristics of Adult Learners 

This online module provides useful advice on creating professional development for teachers as adult learners.