Assessing Adult Learning and Learning Styles

Assessing Adult Learning and Learning Styles

E. Paulette Isaac (University of Missouri, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-745-9.ch009
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Adults have different learning styles which can either enhance or deter their learning. In the conversation that follows, I discuss the utility of assessing adult learning and the diversity of learning styles. Adult education literature is replete with discussions on characteristics of adult learners and adult learning and development. But how do we actually know if adults gained the knowledge they set out to learn? We know that there are several factors that should be taken into consideration when facilitating adult learning, but as adult educators and practitioners of the field, it is equally important that we learn and/or know how to deploy various approaches in assessing adult learning. In this chapter are brief discussions on adult learning, learning styles, and learning assessments.
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9.2 Adult Learning

Teaching should facilitate the personal and professional growth and development (Galbraith, 2004) and possibly the transformation of learners. In order for this to occur, significant learning must take place. Learning is a fundamental and basic characteristic of humans (Long, 1985, 2004). Adults must often engage in learning activities to gain new knowledge or develop skills for professional or personal benefits. Adult learning has been examined from a variety of aspects including aging and development (Clark & Cafferalla, 2000), participation, motivations, barriers (Boshier, 1991; Darkenwald & Valentine, 1985; Isaac, Guy, & Valentine, 2001), and spirituality (English & Gillen, 2000; Tisdell, 2003; Vogel, 2000), just to name a few. Despite the fact that numerous studies exist to broaden our understanding of adult learning, there is no single theory that fully explicates our knowledge of adult learners or their learning processes (Merriam, 2001). Merriam further indicates we have a “mosaic set of theories, models and sets of principles and explanations that, combined, compose the knowledge base of adult learning” (p. 3).

According to Long (2004), any discussion of learning should indicate whether or not the learning activities are sponsored by a group, are a non-group sponsored activity (i.e., self-directed learning), or a combination of the two. However, one common theme among definitions of learning includes a process. For example, Long (2004) defines learning as a cognitive process that is influenced by a variety of methods which include “(a) existing or prior knowledge that the learner has; (b) attitudes and beliefs, held by the learner, toward the source, content, topic, and mode of presentation; and (c) the state of the learner” (p. 31). This suggests that adults engage in learning in a variety of settings including both formal and informal.

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