It might seem surprising, but how you learn things as an adult differs from how you learnt things as a child, and yet certain things remain the same. There is not one sure way to learn things, so it is important to rather focus on making use of a multi-modal approach.
This is when educators get their students to engage with the material and actively think of the problem and possible solutions by presenting the material in multiple and interesting ways. It is usually done simultaneously (for example using images and text together) and is known as the multi-media effect. This is true in both andragogy (adult education) and pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching).
So what’s the difference between how adults and children learn?
Unlike children, adult learners:
Require autonomy: According to an article by Edgepoint Learning adults often chafe under micro-management and often prefer teaching options that offer “autonomy and opportunities for independent thinking”.
Have experience: Adults have prior knowledge (whether through formal and informal education, life and work) that they can draw from. And, based on the article from The Sunday Times, as such, “they tend to gain more from their studies or training when they can draw on their past experiences and knowledge, and validate their learning based on what they already know, as this adds greater context to the situation.”
Require custom learning: By seeing the direct benefits that the training will not only have on their skill sets but also their social and professional network and potentially the income are great motivators for adult learners. According to the Sunday Times article, “for adults who enroll privately for a learning opportunity, sitting down with a knowledgeable and experienced adviser to develop a suitable learning path can be just as beneficial as the needs analysis that an organisation would do.”
Opportunities for practical applications: Knowing how to apply new knowledge and skill sets in their everyday lives and seeing measurable results empowers adults to see the worth of training and encourages them to continue with the training and gain confidence.
Need motivation: If adult learners see no clear explanation for why they need to learn something they won’t put in the effort to learn it.
Need flexible learning options: Whereas children are legally required to attend school full-time up until the age of 15, adults often need to find ways of learning that suit their lifestyles and careers.
How do adults learn best?
Edgepoint Learning highlights four major types of adult learning theory, including:
- Transformational: “Essentially, an old understanding is re-examined in light of new evidence, and the learning (and learner) transforms. A paradigm shift occurs.”
- Experiential: “Designed as an immersive experience, experiential learning requires adults to apply their newly learned skills to a set of problems or towards a common goal. This type of learning uses simulations and scenarios to engage the learner. These are followed by reflective observation of case studies or other applicable demonstrations. Adult learners then look at abstract scenarios before actively experimenting at applying their new knowledge.”
- Self-directed learning: “Think of the last time you learned something because you were interested in it. Perhaps it was a small engine repair, computer programming, or knitting. There was no one standing over you, forcing you to read a manual or practice. Self-directed learning is powerful for adults because the motivation to learn comes from the learner.”
- Neuroscience: “This theory of adult learning examines the manner in which the brain functions to maximise an adult’s ability to learn. Just as you would not try to force a baby to walk before they could support their head, the neuroscience theory of adult education take into consideration what a brain is ready for. This might mean tailoring the time, method of delivery, and configuration of the training to enhance its benefits.”
These types of learning tie in with the findings from The Sunday Times that show adults learn best through a blend of activities that promote the three learning domains:
Cognitive: This is the knowledge you learn (lectures, discussions, study material)
Affective: This is activities that appeal to your attitudes and beliefs
Behavioural: This is the practical application (role-playing, simulations)
According to the article “A good learning or training programme incorporates tasks that promote a combination of these domains, while including an adult’s prior experience and knowledge, thereby facilitating a more successful learning experience.”
Best practices in action
These are all methods and theories that have been taken into consideration concerning the Early Childhood Development training programme that we at The Love Trust run at centres across South Africa. It, along with the incredible staff and support from our donors, is why the programme is so successful. Together with the Nokuphila Teacher Training Academy, our affiliated teacher training centres have graduated over 750 early childhood development practitioners, affecting the lives of approximately 20,000 children per day. A further 105 students are expected to graduate at the end of this year, 2022.