The learning environment must be physically and psychologically comfortable; long lectures, periods of interminable sitting and the absence of practice opportunities rate high on the irritation scale.
Adults have something real to lose in a classroom situation. Self-esteem and ego are on the line when they are asked to risk trying a new behaviour in front of peers.
Bad experiences in traditional education, feelings about authority and the preoccupation with events outside the classroom affect in-class experience.
Adults have expectations, and it is critical to take time early on to clarify and articulate all expectations before getting into content. The instructor can assume responsibility only for his or her own expectations, not for those of students.
Adults bring a great deal of life experience into the classroom, an invaluable asset to be acknowledged, tapped and used. Adults can learn well -and much – from dialogue with respected peers.
Instructors who have a tendency to hold forth rather than facilitate can hold that tendency in check–or compensate for it–by concentrating on the use of open-ended questions to draw out relevant student knowledge and experience.
New knowledge has to be integrated with previous knowledge; students must actively participate in the learning experience. The learner is dependent on the instructor for confirming feedback on skill practice; the instructor is dependent on the learner for feedback about curriculum and in-class performance.
The key to the instructor role is control. The instructor must balance the presentation of new material, debate and discussion, sharing of relevant student experiences, and the clock. Ironically, it seems that instructors are best able to establish control when they risk giving it up. When they shelve egos and stifle the tendency to be threatened by challenge to plans and methods, they gain the kind of facilitative control needed to effect adult learning.
The instructor has to protect minority opinion, keep disagreements civil and unheated, make connections between various opinions and ideas, and keep reminding the group of the variety of potential solutions to the problem. The instructor is less advocate than orchestrator.
Integration of new knowledge and skill requires transition time and focused effort on application.
Learning and teaching theories function better as resources than as a Rosetta stone. A skill-training task can draw much from the behavioral approach, for example, while personal growth-centered subjects seem to draw gainfully from humanistic concepts. An eclectic, rather than a single theory-based approach to developing strategies and procedures, is recommended for matching instruction to learning tasks.
We must recognise that adults want their learning to be problem-oriented, personalised and accepting of their need for self-direction and personal responsibility.
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