22 02 2013

According to Conlan, Grabowski, and Smith (2003), self-directed learning is a process shaped by reflection and action. The learning process is conducive for the adult who is living a full life working, raising a family, and pursuing other areas of interest. However, the informal process can be unstructured, which can lead the adult learner to become complacent or unorganized in accomplishing their learning objectives or goals. Self-directed learning may not be a one size fit all for adult learning situations. It depends upon the adult, the situation, and how he or she thrives in a particular learning environment. I learned quite a bit about the theories of adult education through our graduate class readings this week and understand how widely interesting this field has become. I think the authors Davis, Edmunds, and Kelly-Bateman (2008) explained self-directed learning best by stating that “decision-making itself is a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality.” I believe that as adults whatever is seen as our point-in time reality at any given moment shapes the learning experience and how we seek additional knowledge. I know this was true for me when I decided to pursue my undergraduate degree.

Until I was faced with the reality of change surrounding me at work and the reality of getting older without pursuing my real passions, I did not get up and make a move. Adult education became very real to me when I did some soul searching and realized that I had the power to connect with others in my community who could help me to shape my purpose, and also offer me mentorship during the process. Spencer (2004) in his discussion regarding online and distance learning, talks about the importance of the adult learner being connected to a community or environmental group to promote social learning (p. 197). Community connection is not just important in an online format, but also in the physical classroom. I believe the adult learner will gain more from their learning experience if they can connect their experiences with other learners who have similar experiences and goals. This became the case for me as an adult learner when I decided to choose a setting where building community was the central theme. I wanted to be in a setting with older adults whom I could connect with and also use as a resource and motivator when I felt like quitting the process. I did face many challenges as an adult learner juggling motherhood, marriage, a full-time job, church, and my community service on and off campus. The liberal arts setting and the one-on-one mentoring were keys to me having a successful 5 and ½ years. I gained some valuable friendships and lifelong lessons from the experience.

I read a September blog in The Huffington Post by Randy Trask that spoke about adult education being able to close the skills gap needed in today’s labor market. Trask explains in detail about the difficulty employees have filling jobs with educated and well-trained workers. While the nation has made progress in some areas of education, the blog stated that 40 million adults still do not have high school diplomas. This lack of education ends up placing a greater social burden upon society. Trask (2012) writes, “Lack of education is directly tied to higher rates of incarceration and greater dependency on social services as well. And, the cost to the American economy is staggering. If dropouts from the class of 2011 had completed their high school education, the economy would benefit by the addition of $154 billion over the course of their lifetimes. Conversely, it is estimated that each adult lacking a high school credential costs $260,000 in taxpayer support over his or her lifetime.” I personally believe that adult education has to continue to reach beyond the classroom to reach the 40 million high school dropouts living in our communities. I believe you have to do research of a particular community and their needs before you launch into a full blown educational or training program. Researching the foundation of adult learning theories is a great start! For example, if a community is faced with technology challenges, then this would be an immediate area that would need to be addressed in designing curriculum or before offering any online courses. My second suggestion is to always design a course with some type of mentoring component as a resource to participants i.e. whether it is an ongoing blog, instant chat, face-to-face meetings, etc.

References

Conlan, J., Grabowski, S., & Smith, K.. (2003). Adult Learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/

Davis, C, Edmunds, E, & Kelly-Bateman, V. (2008). Connectivism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/

Spencer, B. (2004). On-line adult learning. In Foley, G. (Ed.). Dimensions of adult learning: Adult education and training in a global era. Berkshire, GBR: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.

Trask, R. (2012, September 26). How adult education can help close the skills gap. [blog message]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-trask/how-adult-education-can-h_b_1917081.html.


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