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How Do Adults Learn Best?

16 Oct

TMPOAE Knowles

Malcolm Knowles identifies four principles unique to adult learning that can be applied to mentoring and discipleship:

1. Adults generally have a deep need for sellf directed learning, even if that need varies between adults. Implication: The mentor needs to understand this principle and capitalize on it as learning and growth are pursued. The mentoree should participate in designing his or her own development tasks. The mentor helps focus the learning/growth goal(s) and provides the resources, ideas, and feedback necessary for a sense of progress.

2. Adults increasingly appreciate learning that takes place through experience. Implication: For adult mentorees, experience is always a great teacher, as it draws upon their relevant knowledge and experience and stimulates the learning process. The alert mentor will use tasks and methods that are experience-based and/or include self-discovery experiences. Case studies, observation and design, discussion, experiment, simulation, field participation (activities that require application of concepts being learned), and evaluation are experience-based learning approaches.

3. The learning readiness of adults arises primarily from the need to accomplish tasks and solve problems that real life creates. Implication: Real-life situations create the questions and challenges that motivate mentorees to learn and grow in order to successfully deal with them. The wise mentor will take advantage of this motivation by helping the mentoree identify the appropriate solution (learning, personal growth, skill development, etc.) to his or her real-life need(s).

4. Adults see learning as a process through which they can raise their competence in order to reach full potential in their lives. They want to apply tomorrow what they learn today. Implication: Adults are motivated in the learning process by the results they perceive will benefit them personally. Therefore, the mentoree must perceive that there is significant personal growth in valued areas ahead and appropriate applications to present situations, otherwise he or she will abandon the process. The mentor needs to ensure that the connection between the mentoree’s desires for growth and anticipated results is clear, personal, and realistic; then the mentor can facilitate such growth. Adults are goal-oriented in their learning.

*Source: Malcolm Knowles. Modern Practice of Adult Education. From Pedagogy to Andagogy. Chicago: Foliet Publishing (1980:43-44).

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