The Adult Learner
by Isaac Peter
“People don’t mind changing, they mind being changed”
Peter Senge, The 5th Discpline.
Peter Senge, an idealistic pragmatist, is a highly respected individual who has impacted the business community by the way they conduct their businesses.
His insight gives us a glimpse into the soul of the human being, where lies the desire to better oneself through the change they are willing to make on their own.
Therefore, as individuals involved in the personal and career development of others, it is our challenge to understand the learner and make them own their discovery journey.
In this writing, I would define adult as a stage of life where one is self-supporting. This would mean that the individual is responsible for his finance, well being and decision-making.
Learning is the process in which an individual acquires knowledge and information. The learning process is not rigid. It comes in the form of observation and reflection, structured learning, life experiences as well as a combination of the various forms.
Therefore an adult learner is one who seeks to improve by engaging in the learning process to meet a specific need in his current and foreseeable life in a conscious manner.
The following fundamentals would go a long way in making the learning process a positive experience.
Treat adults as adults.
As adults, we are constantly challenged to balance our resource of time. We expect people to respect our time, a qualified and knowledgeable trainer as well as some degree of challenges (difficulty) in the learning process. These challenges are meant to motivate the adult learner. A good analogy concerning level of challenge is a person riding a bicycle over a hilltop. The uphill is the challenge and the learner knows the reward is the thrilling downhill acceleration.
Adult wants choices.
Adults make their own decision and because of this, almost always the learning journey is their choice. In the context of a training program, by attending the program, they have indicated their choice to learn from you. In an alternative context, one may ‘force’ an adult to learn but if the learner choose to ‘close their mind’ to the knowledge you are imparting, then like a closed bottle, no water will be able to fill that bottle.
Adult focus on relevance
An adult learner knows what they want and what they need, it is important to address this need in order to get them focused. Remember, since it is their choice to learn, they would only want to learn relevant knowledge pertaining to their short term needs as well as to their long term goal of career development.
Adult have background and experience
One can disagree with information but never an experience because every experience is valid and real to the individual because it is personal. An adult uses these experiences like a compass to navigate in a sea of information picking up relevant information that can be used to build upon their experiences.
Adult requires variety
Studies have shown that an adult’s attention span is at most 20-22 minutes. Once the learning experience exceeds this time frame, look around to see if some of the adults are doing other things such as doodling on their note pads, looking at their notebook, chatting with others.
If the learning content is more than this time, interrupt the learning process by doing some other activity or take a short break. This should help to reset the adult’s system to absorb more.
Adult are generally GREGARIOUS
Contrary to popular belief that adult are boring and ‘sedated’ people, adult are more often than not, an active bunch of people and love activities of varying sort, listening to stories, group discussion, good humour, etc.
Adult wants to know who’s in charge
As much as we hear people expressing their dissatisfaction with authorities, in any given situation they would be the first to utter ‘Who’s in charge’. This gives an insight to the fact that the adult learner wants to know that there’s always a captain on board the ship though they might not like the route taken, they know they will get to their destination.