Adult Learning Principles

Part of being an effective educator involves understanding how adults learn best. In the 1970s, Malcolm Knowles, anPart of being an effective educator involves understanding how adults learn best. In the 1970s, Malcolm Knowles, an
American theorist of adult education, identified the following six principles of adult learning:
1.   Adults are internally motivated and self-directed

2.   Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences

3.   Adults are goal-oriented

4.   Adults are relevancy-oriented

5.   Adults are practical

6.   Adult learners like to be respected

How can I use adult learning principles to facilitate student learning on placement? Good question! In this section of the chapter we will discuss some ways to facilitate learning by applying Knowles’ Adult Learning Principles.

01. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions on them. Your role is to facilitate a students’ movement toward more self-directed and responsible learning as well as to foster the student’s internal motivation to learn.As a trainer you can:

  • Set up a graded learning program that moves from more to less structure, from less to more responsibility and from more to less direct supervision, at an appropriate pace that is challenging yet not overloading for the student• Develop rapport with the student to optimise your approachability and encourage asking of questions and exploration of concepts.•   Show interest in the student’s thoughts and opinions.
  • Actively and carefully listen to any questions asked.
  • Lead the student toward inquiry before supplying them with too many facts.
  • Provide regular constructive and specific feedback (both positive and negative),
  • Review goals and acknowledge goal completion
  • Encourage use of resources such as library, journals, internet and other department resources.
  • Set projects or tasks for the student that reflects their interests and which they must complete and “tick off” over the course of the placement. For example: to provide an in-service on topic of choice; to present a case- study based on one of their clients; to design a client educational handout; or to lead a client group activity session.• Acknowledge the preferred learning style of the student. A questionnaire is provided below that will assist your student to identify their preferred learning style and to discuss this with you.


2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences

Adult learners should be given opportunity to use their existing knowledge and life experiences. As a trainer you can:

  • Find out your learner’s interests and past experiences (personal, work and study related)
  • Assist them to draw on those experiences when problem-solving, reflecting and applying clinical reasoning processes
  • Facilitate reflective learning opportunities which can also assist the student to examine existing biases or habits based on life experiences and move them toward a new understanding of information presented

3. Adults are goal oriented
Adult students are ready to learn when they experience a need to learn in order to cope with real-life tasks or problems. Your role is to facilitate a student’s readiness for problem-based learning and increase the student’s awareness of the need for the knowledge or skill presented. As a trainer, you can:• Provide meaningful learning experiences that are clearly linked to personal, client and fieldwork goals as well as assessment and future life goals.• Provide real case-studies (through client contact and reporting) as a basis from which to learn about the theory.•   Ask questions that motivate reflection, inquiry and further research.


4. Adults are relevancy oriented
Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to what they want to achieve. One way to help them see the value of their observations and practical experiences throughout their placement is to:• Ask the student to do some reflection on what they expect to learn prior to the experience, on what they learnt after the experience and how they might apply what they learnt in the future, or how it will help them to meet their learning goals.• Provide some choice of fieldwork project by providing two or more options, so that learning is more likely to reflect the student’s interests..


05. Adults are practical

Through practical fieldwork experiences, interacting with real clients and their real life situations, students move from classroom and textbook mode to hands-on problem solving where they can recognise firsthand how their learning applies to the work context. As a trainer you can:• Clearly explain your clinical reasoning when making choices about assessments, interventions and when prioritising client’s clinical needs.• Be explicit about how what the student is learning is useful and applicable to the job and client group you are working with.• Promote active participation by allowing students to try things rather than observe. Provide plenty of practice opportunity in assessment, interviewing, and intervention processes with ample repetition in order to promote development of skill, confidence and competence.


6. Adult learners like to be respected
Respect can be demonstrated by:
•   Acknowledging the wealth of experiences that the student brings to the placement
•   Regarding the adult learner as a colleague who is equal in life experience
•   Encouraging expression of ideas, reasoning and feedback at every opportunity

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