Adults learn in a different way to children. Their education, accordingly, has to be adapted to their specific needs.
Before we review books and articles related to adult learning, let us review 8 key principles for learning in adults.
8 Adult Learning Principles:
1. Adults are autonomous and self-directed. Adults need to be free to direct their own learning. If the learning engagement is classroom-based, the facilitator must actively involve adult participants in the learning process. Specifically, they have to be sure to act as facilitators, guiding participants to their own knowledge rather than supplying them with all of the facts and not involving them in the process. They should allow the participants to assume responsibility for their learning and engage them in discussions, presentations and group-based tasks. If the learning engagement is an e-Learning course, the course should be designed to allow participants to explore topics in greater detail and choose from multiple learning activities.
If we do not engage learners in our Madrasah or other educational institutions, they may not be actively aware of vocal about their feelings but their capacity to learn would reduce. It is sunnah of our beloved Prophet to engage learners by asking them relevant questions and giving an opportunity to ponder and reflect.
2. Adults bring knowledge and experience to each learning activity. Over their lives, adults have accumulated a wealth of life experiences and knowledge. This may include family memories, work-related experiences, and previous education. Linking new material in a course to learners’ existing knowledge and experience creates a powerful and relevant learning experience. Relating theories and concepts to the participants and recognizing the value of experience in learning are two important factors to keep in mind as well.
Creative outcomes are produced when different fields combine e.g. when medical science and electro-mechanical systems combined, we got the modern medical equipment produced. When visual arts and computer technology combined, this brought graphics software in existence. Same way, we have a lot of diversity in our Madrasas, Islamic Universities and other educational institutions which need to be capitalized for extracting benefits for our ummah.
3. Adults need learning to be relevant and practical. Every day, the human brain takes in hundreds of thousands of sensory inputs. As the brain processes these inputs, it begins to sort out information it deems relevant and important. Relevancy increases the likelihood information will be retained. Adults must see a reason for learning something and the learning must be applicable to their work or other responsibilities in order for it to be valuable for them. Therefore, learning engagements must identify objectives for adult participants before the course begins. By nature, most adults are practical about their learning. Typically, they will focus on the aspects of a program most useful to them in their work. Participants must know how the content will be useful to them.
You would notice that if a Khateeb starts to talk about some complex fiqhi (jurisprudence) issue to an audience who is not familiar with the complexities involved, attendees loose interest. Similarly, if a lecturers starts explaining personal background and irrelevant details to students which may not be helpful in their learning, students would not get engaged.
On the other hand, if we clearly establish reasons a subject is being taught and explain its relevance and importance, adult students have a very high expectation for engagement and retention.
4. Adults are goal-oriented. Adults primarily participate in learning programs to achieve a particular goal. Therefore, they appreciate an educational program that is organized and has clearly defined learning objectives. These need to be communicated early in the course. It is unlike children who learn ABC or ALIF BA TA without asking why they need to learn it. On contrary, adults, whether they express it or not, have underlying objects for doing their learning, be it an inspiration to be religious scholar, or to earn a job or in some instance to do some form of education (third motive has to be dealt in a way that it gets transformed into some other meaningful objective).
5. Adults are problem-oriented and want to apply what they’ve learned. Adult learners want to be able to apply their learning to their work or personal life immediately. Using examples to help them see the connection between classroom theories and practical application; utilizing problem-solving activities as part of the learning experience; and creating action plans together with learners are important concepts that enable life application.
If we cover books and books through lecture on lecture and ask students to memorize it, it will not yield real educational benefits. If we rather give our adult students some practical problems to solve using their learning, it would leave much long-lasting imprints on their memory.
6. Adults are motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Learning is driven by participant motivation – the more motivated someone is to participate in training, the more he or she is likely to learn and retain information. Adults are motivated by both internal and external factors. During the first several weeks on the job, adults are highly motivated to learn. Similarly, motivation is high when they are faced with learning a new work process or approach to a problem. However, as they become more familiar with the content, learners’ motivation to learn may wane until a specific need arises.
7. Adults are pressed for time. In today’s fast-paced world, adults have to juggle demanding jobs, family responsibilities, and community commitments. Even if they are highly motivated to learn, the pressures of life often limit the time many adults can invest in learning. Therefore, in many cases, learning must be available when it is convenient for the learner and delivered in “manageable chunks.” These may come in the form of modularized e-Learning programs, podcasts, or webcasts or may be strategically delivered through informal training initiatives.
8. Adults have different learning styles. A learning style refers to how a person learns, categorizes, and processes new content. Each person may have multiple preferred learning styles. In training, each of these styles should be considered when delivering content. There are many different ways to categorize learning styles.
Adult Learning Principles - Kimberly TAFE Western Australia
(Discusses basic characteristics of adult learners in a simple to understand manner)
Principles of Adult Learning & Instructional Systems Design
(Discusses adult learning principles, some commonly taken assumptions and their linkage with learning styles)
Excerpt from Malcom Knowles book on Adult learning
(This discusses the difference between teaching adults vs. teaching children and what motivates these groups to learn)
TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 11: Adult Learning Theories
(Broadly discussed adult learning, transformation theory and relevant concepts)
Adult Learning Principles - By Sierra Training
(“We can teach the way we were taught, or we can teach the way people learn.”)
Application of Adult Learning Theory
(Another Article to explain adult learning in simple terms)
Another Resource on adult learning