Adult Learning Theories and Principles

Adult Learning Theories and Principles

Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8323-4.ch004
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This chapter reviews the adult learning theories and principles that guide nontraditional students. Adults learn differently than children do and come to the classroom with different experiences and motivations. Adult learning theories and principles, as well as learning styles, are discussed. Several of the major theories are considered, including andragogy, transformative learning theory, project-based learning, self-directed learning, and experiential learning. This chapter examines the applications of these theories, as well as how instructors can use them to guide their teaching in the classroom to enhance nontraditional learner satisfaction and retention.
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As discussed in Chapter 3, nontraditional learners view themselves primarily as employees and parents rather than as students when compared with traditional learners (Chen, 2014; Wirt et al., 2002). Most college and university services and curriculum were designed for traditional students, and therefore often do not work for nontraditional learners, who are juggling many different roles, and have different worldviews and priorities than younger students with fewer responsibilities (Kasworm, 2010). It is difficult for older learners who are often parents, employees, and first-generation college students to feel as if they fit in on campus. When nontraditional learners lack a sense of belonging with their peers, and do not identity as a student, it is difficult for them to integrate into the classroom (Kasworm, 2005). Moreover, they feel the traditional educational model created for traditional students does not work for them (Nelken, 2009). Therefore, it is essential that educators understand how these adults’ learning styles differ from their peers, in order to create strategies for learning that enhance nontraditional learners’ integration into campus culture (Kenner & Weinerman, 2011).

There are three primary learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (VAK model; Pashler et al., 2008). Visual learners need to have the instructor in their field of vision, sit in the front of the classroom in order to focus on the lecture or presentation and avoid visual distractions, and often take notes to help them learn (Blevins, 2014; Pashler, et al., 2008). Auditory learners learn best from listening to lectures and from reading aloud the information. Kinesthetic learners learn through actually engaging in an activity, such as during a training session, through group work, or doing hands-on activities (Blevins, 2014). A long-held idea is that students learn better when they are instructed in their primary learning style (Dekker et al., 2012). Therefore, learners benefit when an instructor incorporates all three styles of learning in their classroom. However, some researchers believe that there is too much emphasis placed on learning styles, and that there is little evidence to support the need to present new information using an individual’s dominant learning style (Nancekivell et al., 2020).

Adults face significant barriers to education that children do not experience; this is especially true for nontraditional learners (Finn, 2011; Goncalves & Trunk, 2014). The most common barriers include childcare, finances, and time constraints. These barriers and responsibilities create unique backgrounds for nontraditional learners that are not shared by children or even traditional college students; this provides instructors an opportunity to create a bridge between what is being learned in the classroom, and their adult learners’ experiences and backgrounds. Nontraditional learners are especially motivated by intrinsic factors, such as satisfaction and pleasure from learning, as opposed to the extrinsic factors that motivate many traditional students (Bye et al., 2007; Quiggins et al., 2016; Shillingford & Karlin, 2013).

As the number of nontraditional learners in higher education continues to increase, instructors will need to understand the best adult learning models to fit their needs. Chen (2014) found that courses that implement adult learning principles are effective for teaching nontraditional learners. Nontraditional students learn better and are more motivated when they are allowed to use their experiences in the classroom, and relate what they are learning to their personal experiences (Gouthro, 2019). This chapter will examine the history of adult learning theories, the development of several current models, and the implementation of teaching strategies based upon those models. The focus is on how to utilize these models to increase motivation, engagement, and success, and decrease educational barriers, in nontraditional learners.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Pedagogy: The method or practice of teaching, based on research or theory, used with children.

Self-Efficacy: An individual’s belief in their ability to control own’s own motivation, behavior, and social environment.

Self-Actualization: A need individuals possess to fulfill one’s potential and talent.

Experiential Learning: This adult learning theory focuses on developing life experiences through hands-on learning.

Transformative Learning: An adult learning theory that involves the learner experiencing a transformation in their perspective after integrating new information into their worldview.

Traditional Student: A student who graduates high school, begins college full-time within one year of graduation, does not work full time, is 18-24 years of age, and has no dependents.

VAK Model: A learning style based on using visual, auditory, and/or kinesthetic modalities to learn.

Andragogy: The method or practice of teaching, based on research or theory, used with adults.

Highly Nontraditional Student: A student with 4 or more nontraditional characteristics.

Moderately Nontraditional Student: A student with 2-3 nontraditional characteristics.

First-Generation College Student: A student whose parents did not attend college.

Nontraditional student: The increasing and majority population of college students who have at least one of the following criteria: 25 or older; single parents; dependents; part-time students; a GED; delayed college attendance; financial independence; and full-time employment.

Self-Regulated Learning: An individual’s ability to understand and control one’s learning environment through self-monitoring, goal-setting, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement.

Scaffolding: The process of breaking up learning into chunks and providing a tool for each chunk. This allows the learner to accomplish novel tasks.

Evidence-Based Teaching: Teaching practices should be grounded in the scientific evidence, rather than tradition, personal preferences, or other influences.

Internal Locus of Control: Individuals with an internal locus of control believe that the outcome of their actions are due to their own abilities.

Active Learning Strategies: Active learning engages students in learning using various techniques such as role-playing, case studies, collaborative projects, peer revision, presentations, and demonstrations, followed by class discussion or other forms of student feedback to assess student understanding.

Self-Directed Learning: The process by which the individuals takes the initiative in their learning by forming learning goals, choosing materials, implementing learning strategies, and evaluating their learning.

Intrinsic Motivation: Completing a task or activity for its inherent satisfaction instead of because of external pressure or reward.

Project-Based Learning: An inquiry-based learning theory that teaches adult learners by actively engaging them with long-term group projects that are personally meaningful and are based on real-world situations.

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