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Published on October 1, 2019

How to Apply the Adult Learning Theory to Learn Faster

How to Apply the Adult Learning Theory to Learn Faster

Each day provides us with an opportunity to learn. However, as we grow and transition from a child to an adult, our ability to grasp things and learn concepts goes through a radical shift.

Why, you ask?

This is because, we, as adults, get inspired by our previous experiences, surroundings, company, and other factors, which in turn, play an important role in the entire adult learning process.

In this article, you will learn about the Adult Learning Theory, and how you can apply it to learn faster.

What Is Adult Learning Theory?

Adult Learning Theory is a field of research that studies various reasons behind the differences between the way adults and kids learn. It suggests ways through which adult learning could be made more effective.

According to the US Department of Education, there are various adult learning theories in the research literature, these include:[1]

Andragogy

Andragogy is a theory related to educating adult learners. This theory was developed by educator Malcolm Knowles in the 1950s.

It is based on five assumptions, and four principles which work in harmony to promote self-directed learning.

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The five assumptions include:

  • Self-concept
  • Adult learner experience
  • Readiness to learn
  • Orientation to learning
  • Motivation to learn

And the four principles of Andragogy are:

  • Adults should take part in the planning and evaluation of their learning instructions.
  • Experience serves as the foundation of learning.
  • Adults are inclined towards learning subjects that have immediate impact on their job and career.
  • Adults learning is not content-centered, but problem-centered.

This theory emphasizes the importance of adults’ experiences. These experiences will serve as the foundation for future learning experiences. The theory also focuses on the importance of problem-centered learning which is relevant to the adult learners.

Transformational Learning

Developed by socialist and professor, Jack Mezirow, Transformational Learning is a theory that focuses on the meaning of the learning experiences.[2] The theory consists of 10 steps, each step reflects on the experiences of an adult learner at various levels:

  1. Experiencing a disorienting dilemma
  2. Undergoing self-examination
  3. Critically assessing assumptions
  4. Recognizing a connection between one’s discontent and the process of transformation
  5. Exploring options for new roles, relationships, and actions
  6. Planning a course of action
  7. Acquiring knowledge or skills for implementing one’s plans
  8. Trying new roles on a provisional basis
  9. Building competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships.
  10. Integrating the changes into one’s life

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning theory was developed by David Kolb. It focuses on learning through reflection and experience. This theory states that adults can learn through their experiences without needing a teacher.

How Differently Adults and Children Learn?

Adults learn differently when compared to children. There are various important factors that play an important role, some of them being:

Adults Get Inspired from Their Wealth of Experience

We, as adults, have seen the world. We have a network of friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbors, and each of these individuals leave an impact on the learning experience of adults. As a result, we are able to relate our learning to our past experiences.

Adults Need Better Opportunities to Self-Reflect Their Learning

When compared to children who behave socially in classroom settings, adults are not as much vocal about their learning experience. So we need seek for better learning opportunities so that we can interact, self-reflect, and retain the information.

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Adults Are Not Good in Taking Directions Without Knowing the Behind Motive

Teaching children is easy. They tend to follow the instructions and learn things related to their distant future without questioning why.

However, this is not the case with adults. We won’t retain the information provided until and unless we find it suitable and relevant to our end-goals.

Adults Have a Predetermined Idea About Learning Styles

Although children are open to exploring new styles of learning, adults have stringent requirements. As adults, we prefer learning in a certain way irrespective of how conducive it might be for our needs.

To overcome our learning behavior and to retain the information learned, it is necessary to try varied learning styles and analyze what works best for ourselves.

Adults Are Sensitive Towards Failures

Most of the time, adults are not receptive to failures, and this is what makes us restricted. Unlike children, they are not willing to experiment due to social filters.

To stay interested in the learning process, try to build the information on small pieces and gradually support it with extra learning.

Adults Learning Habits Are Inspired by Their Immediate Relevance

Children engage in education with the sole motive of learning things, the implementation comes after. A fifth-grader who has not decided their career path won’t know that their biology lessons will play an important role in his career as a doctor.

On the other hand, adults have a predefined career path; and more often than not, our learning is inspired by its immediate implication to our career, daily life and so on.

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How to Benefit from the Learning Theory to Learn More Effectively

As is evident, the ways in which adults learn is fairly different from the ways in which children learn. However, you can leverage your need to connect with experience to learn effectively and effortlessly. Here is how you can do that:

1. Make the Best Use of Technology

Adults like learning on their own. Thus, making the right use of technology could be your best bet here. Choose to learn in a format which is easy to navigate, doesn’t provide redundant information, and encourages you to learn more.

YouTube, for instance, keeps you hooked for hours as it allows you to browse various topics, and provides you with relevant suggestions based on your likings. What’s more, it allows you to hit on the next episode as soon as you are done. This keeps your interest alive.

2. Choose Visual-Based Learning

A study conducted by UC Santa Barbara revealed that adding complementary visuals to text provides 89 percent advantage of learning outcomes.[3] This works particularly when you have a little background about the topic and are learning it from scratch.

However, striking the right balance is of the key here. Too many visuals can prove to be overwhelming and might also hamper your learning experience.

3. Use Audio

If you have encountered a complex issue, and are finding it tough to learn and grasp its concepts, making use of audio descriptions can help.

Audio clips explain the concept better, help in segregating the two related topics, and are also convenient in highlighting an important point or bullet.

4. Get Actively Involved in the Learning

Although theoretical exercises can be interesting, adults learn the best when they are involved in the learning.

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Instead of simply memorizing facts and figures, you can learn effectively by getting involved in role-playing activities. Look for opportunities where you can implement your learning. This will help you in bridging the gap between the theoretical and practical concepts.

Practicing and doing practical experiments not only helps you in learning better, but it also helps you in retaining your knowledge.

5. Exercise a Bit of Ownership

What makes adults learning significantly different to the kids learning is the fact that, kids like to follow the instructions provided. However, this is not the case with adults who like to exercise a bit of control over their learning activities.

This is perhaps why you will feel more comfortable while learning from online courses as they allow you to learn at your own pace, and at the comfort of your home.

6. Make Use of Supplementary Materials

It is essential to judge your requirements pretty well. While some people might find learning by listening highly effective, there are others who like to take notes and review the written material afterward.

Our learning needs vary greatly based on our personal preferences and learning habits, and this must be taken into account.

Final Thoughts

Although all the factors that we mentioned above might not be applicable to everyone, it will not be wrong to say that a large spectrum of people encounters similar experiences.

To make your learning experience all the more pleasurable and unforgettable, understand your requirements, analyze what works for you and what doesn’t, and take the right steps!

More About Learning

Featured photo credit: Avel Chuklanov via unsplash.com

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster and Easier

How Social Learning Helps You Learn Faster and Easier

Have you ever noticed that you tend to learn certain things simply by observing others? Learning in this way is called social learning, which is one of the 6 common types of learning. It helps you learn faster as knowledge and habits are acquired easily when they are practiced by people within a certain environment.

Throughout the centuries, humans have incorporated social learning in their lives as a major learning approach. The fact that human behavior is learned has made this possible. From initially being the only way to learn, it is now the fastest and most comprehensive learning method.

In this article, you’ll find out how you can make good use of social learning and observed behaviors to help you learn faster and easier.

The social learning theory as presented by Albert Bandura is simple. It suggests social learning is based on attention, retention, motivation and reproduction[1].

While these stages seem like common sense, there is a surprisingly large number of people who go through social interactions without learning anything because they aren’t actively practicing the different stages.

Let’s get started with the first stage, attention.

Attention

Since our mind has a limited capacity for storing data, it’s the things that we pay attention to that stay with us. Giving 100% of your attention to a situation you learn from is guaranteed to help you maximize social learning.

Stay in the Moment

When you’re focused on learning from your surroundings, your mind will focus only on what it wants to learn, so distractions fade away. However, it’s very normal to be in a situation where the information you are getting becomes monotonous or you get distracted for some other reason.

Make sure you are well-rested and energized so you can spend your energy learning things that matter to you[2].

social learning theory

    Be Mindful

    Mindfulness in its simplest terms is tuning into we’re experiencing in the present rather than thinking about something that could or did happen.

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    For social learning, you should be mindful only of the conversation or activity you want to learn from, filtering out other things that don’t matter to you as much at that moment. This way, your brain can make memories of what you are experiencing at that time only, which is the thing you want to learn.

    If you find yourself getting distracted, focus on deep breathing until the distractions fade away and you can bring your attention back to the learning opportunity at hand.

    For more tips on being mindful, check out this article.

    Don’t Multitask

    In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s normal, even expected, to be a multitasker. Being amongst people and checking emails on smartphones is now normal social behavior.

    However, when you want to maximize your social learning, don’t multitask. You should focus only on the interaction you want to learn from and block out all the rest.

    Don’t reach for your device, and don’t engage in multiple conversations simultaneously. In short, don’t have your mind and other senses deal with anything apart from learning.

    Engage Actively

    Similar to the above points, learning through social learning is fast and easy if you listen, speak, and observe actively.

    When you’re actively engaged, you respond to the situation by making relevant observations, mimicking important actions, and focusing on listening so you understand.

    To maximize the benefits of learning through social learning, be attentive to those who are around and looking to learn as well. A good example of this would be medical students on clinical rotations who are actively observing and listening to the doctor they are assigned to, and responding to his / her queries.

    Retention

    Paying attention is great for learning, but what about retaining the new information?

    Our brain has limited space to store data, so how do we ensure we remember things that are important to us?

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    These tips should help increase your retention power.

    Repeat to Remember

    Our brain starts developing from the moment we are born, absorbing things from people and experiences around us. It is learning constantly, and repeated experiences help reinforce the learning.

    A new experience opens up new neural pathways in our brain, and repetition of these experiences[3] strengthens the pathways, helping us retain the information better and for longer.

    Increase Brain Power

    You can improve retention by increasing your brain power: exercise regularly, sleep well, and stretch memory muscles by playing brain games.

    Here are more ways to help: How to Increase Brain Power: 10 Simple Ways to Train Your Brain

    Make Connections

    Connect a social learning opportunity with mnemonics. Use mental images, music, and anything else you want to retain and recall information.

    Link new information with old to reach new conclusions. You can use writing and speech for this.

    Remember That Less Is More

    When you are looking to retain knowledge through social learning, try taking in information in small quantities.

    Full day conferences, lectures that last for hours, and similar learning schedules do not have the desired effect. The human mind shuts down when it is faced with information overload, and the learning from these situations becomes minimal.

    Research shows that if you are looking to retain information from social learning opportunities, it’s a far better idea to put yourself in the situation more frequently for a shorter amount of time[4].

    Motivation

    The idea of a tangible reward or the emotional high that comes with the sense of accomplishment is what motivates us to keep doing a good thing, while the fear of repercussions or unpleasant outcomes is what keeps from doing something bad.

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    When a child observes that good behavior of a sibling results in them getting a treat, while bad behavior courts punishment, the child wanting a treat will be motivated toward good behavior by this social learning lesson.

    Motivation to learn new information and habits is a critical part of social learning. To stay motivated for social learning, you can try the following.

    Find a Role Model

    Finding a role model and basing your learning on them means you are motivated to duplicate the role model’s behavior.

    The medical students example fits well here again. The students will be motivated to observe and imitate better clinical skills and patient handling techniques by observing others around them and aspiring to be as good as they are.

    Make a Note

    Write down things that inspired you, and keep going back to them to stay motivated.

    Talk About It

    Talk to your role model or peers about what is motivating you in a shared social learning environment.

    An example of this is a person in rehab who is motivated to attend meetings by the presence of others who have managed to kick the addiction and are on the road to recovery.

    This is based on reinforcement or punishment. Positive motivation is reward-based motivation (satisfied patients) and negative motivation is punishment-based motivation (absolute dependence on drugs).

    Remember, no matter which type works for you, without motivation, there is no reason for us to do anything.

    Reproduction

    In the context of social learning, “reproduction” is not propagation of the learning, but the implementation of it.

    Reproducing learned information is the last stage of social learning. Once you pay attention to your surroundings and retain what you learned in the setting, you are then motivated to reproduce your learning so you can get the reward.

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    Bandura suggests direct reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement and self-reinforcement as the different ways to reproduce knowledge gained through social learning[5].

    Direct Reinforcement

    This is when you act on knowledge, knowing the result will be positive, or avoid the act because the result would be unpleasant.

    To repeat the medical students’ example here, direct reinforcement would be one of them practicing patient handling techniques learned from their role model, with the expectation that the result would be a satisfied patient.

    Vicarious Reinforcement

    Vicarious reinforcement in social learning is the application of knowledge that has not been learned first-hand but is learned by observing the consequences of the actions of a third party.

    A good example of this type of reinforcement would be learning not to take drugs after seeing the condition of a drug addict.

    Self-Reinforcement

    Self-reinforcement is when a person decides to reward him / herself for good behavior, or bring about a negative consequence as a result of an undesired situation.

    Think of a student who has promised herself a scoop of ice cream if she gets an A on an exam she studied hard for, or decided to ask for extra coaching if she got anything below a C.

    The Bottom Line

    Albert Bandura presented the social learning theory in the 1970s, and it immediately gained popularity because of its simplicity, practicality, and immense potential for success. While the theory never went out of fashion, it is now experiencing a resurgence for all the right reasons.

    If you want to become a smarter learner, take advantage of learning experiences and the social learning theory to learn faster!

    More About Effective Learning

    Featured photo credit: Alexis Brown via unsplash.com

    Reference

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