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Last Updated on January 29, 2021

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 absorb concepts goes through a radical shift. 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, including:[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 of adult learning that work in harmony to promote self-directed learning.

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:

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  • 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 an immediate impact on their job and career.
  • Adult learning is not content-centered, but problem-centered.

The Adult Learning Theory - Andragogy principles

    This theory emphasizes the importance of adults’ experiences[2]. 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 as much of their work often involves problem solving.

    Transformational Learning

    Developed by socialist and professor, Jack Mezirow, Transformational Learning is a theory that focuses on the meaning of the learning experiences.[3] The theory consists of 10 steps, and 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 Do Adults and Children Learn Differently?

    Adults learn differently when compared to children. There are various factors that play an important role in adult learning, including:

    Adults Get Inspired From Their Wealth of Experience

    We, as adults, have seen the world and find internal motivation though that life experience. 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 on Their Learning

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

    Adults Are Not Good at Taking Directions Without Knowing the Motive

    Teaching children is easy, as they tend to follow instructions and learn things related to their distant future without questioning why.

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

    Adults Are Sensitive Toward Failures

    Most of the time, adults are not receptive to failures, and this restricts them more. 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.

    Adult Learning Habits Are Inspired by Their Immediate Relevance

    Children engage in education with the sole motive of learning things, and 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 defined career path, and more often than not, our learning is inspired by its immediate, real world impact on our career, daily life, and so on.

    How to Benefit from the Adult Learning Theory to Learn Effectively

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

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    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 that 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. 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 an 89 percent advantage of learning outcomes.[4] This works particularly well when you have limited information on the topic and are learning it from scratch.

    However, striking the right balance is 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 important points.

    4. Get Actively Involved in the Learning

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

    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.

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    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 adult learning significantly different to the way kids absorb information 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 educational experience.

    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 in the comfort of your home.

    6. Make Use of Supplementary Materials

    It is essential to judge your requirements 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 when it comes to adult learning.

    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 Tips on 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 April 26, 2021

    How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

    How to Know Which Types of Learning Styles Work for You?

    One of the biggest realizations I had as a kid is that teaching in school could be hit or miss for students. We all have our own different types of learning styles. Even when I was in study groups, we all had our own ways of uncovering solutions to questions.

    It wasn’t only until later in my life did I realize how important it is to know your own learning style. As soon as you know how you learn and the best way to learn, you can better retain information. This information could be crucial to your job, future promotions, and overall excelling in life.

    Best of all about this information is that, it’s not hard to figure out what works best for you. There are broad categories of learning styles, so it’s a matter of finding which one we gravitate towards most.

    What Are the Types of Learning Styles?

    Before we get into the types of learning styles, there’s one thing to know:

    We all learn through repetition.

    No matter how old you are, studies show that repetition allows us to retain and learn new information.[1] The big question now is what kind of repetition is needed. After all, we all learn and process information differently.

    This is where the types of learning styles come in. There are eight in total and there is one or two that we prefer over others. This is important because when reading these learning styles, you’ll feel like you’d prefer a mixture of these styles.

    That’s because we do prefer a combination. Though there will be one style that will be more predominate over the others. The key is finding which one it is.

    Visual Learning

    A visual learner (also known as the spatial learner) excels at deciphering anything visual – typically maps and graphs.

    If you are this type of learner, you likely excelled at geometry in math class but struggled with arithmetic and numbers. To this day, you might also struggle with reading and writing to a degree.

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    While visual learners are described as “late bloomers,” they are highly imaginative. They also process what they see much faster than what they hear.

    Verbal Learning

    Verbal learning, on the other hand, is learning through what’s spoken. Verbal learners excel in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Because of that, they are likely the ones to find thrills in tongue twists, word games, and puns.

    They also thoroughly enjoy drama, writing, and speech classes. But give them maps, or challenge them to think outside of the box and they’ll struggle a bit.

    Logical Learning

    Not to be confused with visual learners, these learners are good at math and logic puzzles. Anything involving numbers or other abstract visual information is where they excel.

    They can also analyze cause and effect relationships quite well. Part of that is due to their thinking process being linear.

    Another big difference is their need to quantify everything. These people love grouping information, creating specific lists, agendas or itineraries.

    They also have a love for strategy games and making calculations in their heads.

    Auditory Learning

    Similar to verbal learning, this type of learning style focuses on sounds on a deeper level. These people think chronologically and excel more in the step-by-step methods. These are likely the people who will watch Youtube videos to learn or do something the most.

    These learners also have a great memory of conversations and love debates and discussions. Chances are likely these people excel at anything oral.

    Also as the name suggests, these individuals have great musical talents. They can decern notes, instruments, rhythms and tones. That being said, they will have a tough time interpreting body language, expressions and gestures. This also applies to charts, maps and graphs.

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    Social Learning

    Otherwise known as the interpersonal learner, their skills are really unique. They don’t particularly excel in classrooms but rather through talking to other people.

    These are the people who are excited for group conversations or group projects. Mainly because they are gifted with coming up with ideas and discussing them.

    They also have a good understanding of people’s emotions, facial expressions, and relationship dynamics. They are also likely the first people to point out the root causes of communication issues.

    Intrapersonal Learning

    The reverse of interpersonal learning, these people prefer learning alone. These are the people who love self-study and working alone. Typically, intrapersonal learners are deeply in tune with themselves meaning they know who they are, their feelings, and their own capabilities.

    This type of learning style means you love learning something on your own and typically every day. You also have innate skills in managing yourself and indulging in self-reflection.

    Physical Learning

    Also known as kinesthetic learning, these people love doing things with their hands. These are people who loved pottery or shop class. If you’re a physical learner, you’ll find you have a huge preference in using your body in order to learn.

    This means not just pottery or shop class you enjoyed. You may also have loved sports or any other art medium like painting or woodwork. Anything that involved you learning through physical manipulation you enjoyed and excelled at.

    Though this doesn’t just apply to direct physical activities. A physical learner may also find that they learn well when both reading on any subject and pacing or bouncing your leg at the same time.

    Naturalistic Learning

    The final learning style is naturalistic. These are people who process information through patterns in nature. They also apply scientific reasoning in order to understand living creatures.

    Not many people may be connected to this one out of the types of learning styles primarily because of those facts. Furthermore, those who excel in this learning end up being farmers, naturalists or scientists.

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    These are the people who love everything with nature. They appreciate plants, animals, and rural settings deeply compared to others.

    How to Know Which One(s) Suit You Better?

    So now that you have an idea of all the types of learning styles we have another question:

    Which one(s) are best for you?

    As a reminder, all of us learn through a combination of these learning styles. This makes pinpointing these styles difficult since our learning is likely a fusion of two or more of those styles.

    Fortunately, there are all kinds of methods to narrow down which learner you are. Let’s explore the most popular one: the VARK model.

    VARK Model

    Developed by Neil Fleming and David Baume, the VARK model is basically a conversation starter for teachers and learners.[2] It takes the eight types of learning styles above and condenses them into four categories:

    • Visual – those who learn from sight.
    • Auditory – those who learn from hearing.
    • Reading/writing – those who learn from reading and writing.
    • Kinesthetic – those who learn from doing and moving.

    As you can probably tell, VARK comes from the first letter of each style.

    But why use this particular model?

    This model was created not only for discussion purposes but for learners to know a few key things — namely understanding how they learn.

    Because our school system is focusing on a one-size-fits-all model, there are many of us who struggle learning in school. While we may no longer go to school, these behaviors persisted into our adult lives regardless. While we aren’t learning about algebra or science, we may be learning new things about our job or industry. Knowing how to best retain that information for the future helps in so many ways.

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    As such, it can be frustrating when we’re in a classroom setting and aren’t understanding anything. That or maybe we’re listening to a speech or reading a book and have no clue what’s going on.

    This is where VARK comes back in. To quote Fleming and Baume:

    “VARK above all is designed to be a starting place for a conversation among teachers and learners about learning. It can also be a catalyst for staff development- thinking about strategies for teaching different groups can lead to more, and appropriate, variety of learning and teaching.”

    Getting into the specifics, this is what’s known as metacognition.[3] It helps you to understand how you learn and who you are. Think of it as a higher order of thinking that takes control over how you learn. It’s impossible to not use this while learning.

    But because of that metacognition, we can pinpoint the different types of learning styles that we use. More importantly, what style we prefer over others.

    Ask These Questions

    One other method that I’ll mention is the research that’s done at the University of Waterloo.[4] If you don’t want to be using a lot of brainpower to pinpoint, consider this method.

    The idea with this method is to answer a few questions. Since our learning is a combination of styles, you’ll find yourself leaning to one side over the other with these questions:

    • The active/reflective scale: How do you prefer to process information?
    • The sensing/intuitive scale: How do you prefer to take in information?
    • The visual/verbal scale: How do you prefer information to be presented?
    • The sequential/global scale: How do you prefer to organize information?

    This can narrow down how you learn and provide some other practical tips for enhancing your learning experience.

    Final Thoughts

    Even though we have a preferred style of learning and knowing what that is is beneficial, learning isn’t about restriction. Our learning style shouldn’t be the sole learning style we rely on all the time.

    Our brain is made of various parts and whatever style we learn activates certain parts of the brain. Because of this fact, it would be wise to consider other methods of learning and to give them a try.

    Each method I mentioned has its merits and there’s not one dominate or superior method. What method we like is entirely up to our preferences. So be flexible with those preferences and uncover what style works best for you.

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    Featured photo credit: Anna Earl via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] BrainScape: Repetition is the mother of all learning
    [2] Neil Fleming and David Baume: VARKing Up the Right Tree
    [3] ERIC: Metacognition: An Overview
    [4] University of Waterloo: Understanding Your Learning Style

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