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Adult Learning Theory



When it comes to learning and education, it is important to recognize that learning continues throughout a person's entire life, which is where adult learning theory comes into play. Adult learning theory stipulates that adults continue to learn through real-world experiences.

In comparison to the way children and teens learn and are educated, adults have a different learning style and special requirements as learners to be able to accurately learn as an adult. The difference between learning for children compared with adults is that now adults are so much more self-reliant and tend to learn from their experiences in the real world. The principals of the Adult Learning Theory follow a few solid truths about the way adults learn and interpret information for future knowledge and usage in life. 

The Principles of Adult Learning Theory:

Adults are considered to be autonomous as well as self-directed. Once the independence level of adulthood is achieved by an individual, adults need to be allowed to learn on their own. While just about any adult will seek advice or guidance, the decision to act accordingly per any given situation will ultimately only be achieved by them on their own. Part of this reason is because adults have already accumulated a foundation of knowledge in just about every area of life in order to survive. Adults will then rely on this previous experience and knowledge to help them gage situations in the future. 

When it comes to learning in more of a class setting, adults still need to take a somewhat different approach to learning the subject matter compared with how a child or teen would learn the material. For example, because adults are often goal oriented, they will enter the class knowing already what they want to attain from the information. This same example can be shown with young adults going to college. Instead of sitting in class after class being told what they must learn, they now have the freedom and independence to decide what they want to learn in their lives. 

All of these are examples of the Adult Learning Theory. In order to achieve a successful learning experience, the adult must follow those goals they set for themselves ahead of time. Successful class instructors will vividly outline for the learning adult exactly how they can use the class, class materials, etc. to achieve their set goals. Adults are also considered to be relevancy oriented, according to the Adult Learning Theory. This means they must see a valid reason for wanting to learn something. If the topic is irrelevant for future use or to store in their existing knowledge base, then the adult won't find value in learning the material and will have a difficult, if not impossible time learning the lesson. 

It is also important to recognize that adults are practical and will pay attention to the portion of the lesson that they will most likely be able to use and rely on at a later point when they will need it. When it comes to instructors needing to learn the values of teaching through Adult Learning Theory, it is important to keep these principles in mind so that they understand how to effectively teach an adult. Particularly college educators or teachers and instructors of technical classes should pay attention to adult learning theory to best teach their students. Because adult students have such a different learning curve in comparison with children and teens, it is important to teach lessons and material accordingly. 

Motivation and the Adult Learning Theory:

Motivation to learn is another element of the Adult Learning Theory. Adults must have motivation or desire to learn and achieve or the information being presented to them will not be absorbed. That is why it is important for educators to assist their students and establish rapport with them to prepare them for the learning to encourage motivation. Combining all of these elements like motivation as well as desire to learn, relevance and retention are all important and vital aspects of the Adult Learning Theory. Without them, adults will not be able to further their education in a classroom. 

Sources: ncrel.org