Adult Learning Theory and Principles

Adult Learning Theory and Principles

By Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative     Article 

“Become familiar with Adult Learning Theory and the six principles of adult learning

Adult Learning Theory

Part of being an effective educator involves understanding how adults learn best (Lieb,1991). Andragogy (adult learning) is a theory that holds a set of assumptions about how adults learn. Andragogy emphasises the value of the process of learning. It uses approaches to learning that are problem-based and collaborative rather than didactic, and also emphasises more equality between the teacher and learner.

Andragogy as a study of adult learning originated in Europe in 1950’s and was then pioneered as a theory and model of adult learning from the 1970’s by Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, who defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn” (Zmeyov 1998; Fidishun 2000).

What do you mean by ‘adult learning principles’?

Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning outlined below.

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

How can I use adult learning principles to facilitate student learning on placement?

Good question!! Here we will discuss some ways to facilitate learning by applying Knowles’ Adult Learning Principles:

1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions on them (Fidishun, 2000).

Your role is to facilitate a students’ movement toward more self-directed and responsible learning as well as to foster the student’s internal motivation to learn.

As clinical educator you can :

  • Set up a graded learning program that moves from more to less structure, from less to more responsibility and from more to less direct supervision, at an appropriate pace that is challenging yet not overloading for the student.
  • Develop rapport with the student to optimise your approachability and encourage asking of questions and exploration of concepts.
  • Show interest in the student’s thoughts and opinions. Actively and carefully listen to any questions asked.
  • Lead the student toward inquiry before supplying them with too many facts.
  • Provide regular constructive and specific feedback (both positive and negative),
  • Review goals and acknowledge goal completion
  • Encourage use of resources such as library, journals, internet and other department resources.
  • Set projects or tasks for the student that reflect their interests and which they must complete and “tick off” over the course of the placement. For example: to provide an in-service on topic of choice; to present a case-study based on one of their clients; to design a client educational handout; or to lead a client group activity session.
  • Acknowledge the preferred learning style of the student. A questionnaire is provided below that will assist your student to identify their preferred learning style and to discuss this with you.”
Adult Learning Theory and Principles

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