The Art & Science of Adult Learning

Adult Education - Man studying

In the world of adult training and education, I am often surprised at how many people design learning experiences for adult learners using pedagogy. Pedagogy by definition refers to the method and practice of teaching children. The teacher is a authority figure and is transferring knowledge to the student. It is a very teacher-centered approach.

Andragogy in contrast refers to methods and practices for teaching adults. Adults have unique learning needs and preferences. Andragogy is primarily a learner centered approach. Adult learners bring their own knowledge and experiences to learning. Adult learners are often driven by their own personal or professional goals such as career advancement, skill development, or personal growth. Adults prefer learning that is problem-centered vs content/topic centered. Key features of andragogy include:

  • Self-Directed Learning: Adults are often more self-directed, taking control of their learning goals and paths.
  • Relevance: Learning is more effective when it is directly relevant to the learner’s personal or professional life or the goals they are trying to achieve.
  • Experience-Based: Adult learners bring a variety of life experiences to the table.  Experience based learning often revolves around practical, real-world applications.
  • Intrinsic Motivation: Adults tend to be motivated by internal factors such as personal growth, career advancement, or life enrichment.
  • Problem-Centered: Learning activities are usually problem-solving oriented, helping learners tackle real-life challenges and scenarios.

Different Types of Adult Learning Principles

Here are some additional adult learning principles.  Notice the overlap with andragogy.

Transformational Learning:

Transformational learning involves a fundamental shift in the way adults perceive and interpret experiences. Learning can transform an individual’s worldview, beliefs, and values.

Self-Directed Learning:

Self-directed learning emphasizes autonomy, where learners set their own goals, and evaluate their progress. Educators facilitate rather than direct learning.

Experiential Learning:

Experiential learning is learn through experiences such as learning by doing, where learners engage in activities, reflect on their experiences, and apply new knowledge in practical contexts. Hands-on learning, real-world projects, and simulations are common examples of experiential learning.

Social Learning:

Adults learn through observing others and interacting within a social setting underscoring the importance of collaborative learning environments, peer-to-peer interactions, and community building to enhance knowledge and skills.  Social learning is the foundational premise of my new venture, Cognito Business Coaching.  

Reflective Learning:

Reflective learning involves the process of thinking critically about one’s experiences and drawing lessons from them.

Cognitive Learning:

Cognitive learning emphasizes the internal processes involved in understanding and retaining information. This approach focuses on the mental activities of acquiring, storing, and retrieving knowledge, highlighting the importance of memory, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking.

Everyone learns differently.  By incorporating a mix of learning principles into your content development, you enable learners to select the style that best fits their needs.  As educators, we can create more engaging and effective learning experiences, by using this mixed principle philosophy in our content strategy.

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