The motivations behind adult learning are vast and range from one individual to another based on their experiences, knowledge, goals, and learning capabilities. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all answer as to why adults decide to engage in the process of learning. Adult learning theories are expected to offer a framework for defining and finding the most appropriate solution to learning needs (Picciano, 2017). Such theories include the premise that adults learn differently from children due to such factors as the existing base of knowledge and life experiences, the understanding of why they are learning, as well as the increased capabilities of organizing themselves. Thus, the understanding of adult learning and the perspectives they offer are imperative for creating appropriate instructional strategies and practices.
Several theoretical perspectives seem valuable for instructors when it comes to creating learning materials and experiences for adult learners. For instance, the Social Learning Theory developed by Albert Bandura is an important framework suggesting that helping learners to become successful is among the best solutions for assisting them in the learning process (Zhou & Brown, 2017). Educators play the part of role models who should exhibit positive attitudes, actions, and behavioral patterns that can be replicated. With the help of social persuasion, which is the component of the theory, can help educators shape learners’ patterns of behavior that adult learners acquire during the process of observational learning. Therefore, the learning materials that are based on Social Learning Theory are intended to facilitate the learning process instead of mandating particular protocols. In particular, the role of the educator is to guide learners and shape the process in such a way that adults learn together with their instructors and not from them specifically.
Social Exchange Theory also provides a significant impact on shaping learning materials for adult learners and suggests that people make decisions by weighing the costs and benefits. Thus, the advantages of learning are juxtaposed to its disadvantages for determining its value for adult individuals. Because adult learners are capable of implementing a cost-benefit analysis, the learning process should be shaped in a way that will outweigh the costs. In addition, the theory is important for considering when it comes to developing adult learning strategies and instructional materials because adult learners filter any new knowledge through their systems of values, which leads to different decisions. Therefore, the theory can help educators understand which practices and strategies can fit some learners and which will be better suited to others.
When it comes to specific instructional learning strategies concerning adult learners, theories also come into play. For instance, the strategy of experiential learning implies that educators honor the life experiences and knowledge of learners and facilitate active participation in activities during lessons (Muneja, 2015). With the help of the Social Learning Theory, it is possible to enhance the strategy by enabling adult learners to shape, discover, and make their knowledge and experiences explicit, which could lead to intensifying the discussion as to what counts for learning and knowledge in adulthood (Mukhalalati & Taylor, 2019). Social Learning Theory as applied to the experiential learning strategy can offer a broad range of perspectives for educators to honor and respect the capacity of their learners. For example, during the class, an instructor should engage learners in a conversation about previous experiences and knowledge that can be embedded into the process of learning and enhance it. With the help of social interactions, learners can influence each other and encourage the emergence of an environment in which learning is a multi-dimensional and reciprocal process.
Theoretic approaches toward adult learning also align with the personal philosophy statement about teaching. Both theories explored above, the Social Learning Theory and Social Exchange Theory, are associated with the social component of learning and focus on the needs and interests of learners above others. In the personal philosophy statement, it was mentioned that an educator should never be the focus of the learning process but rather act as a facilitator and a helper that guides learners through the educational process. Social persuasion as a component of Social Learning Theory ensures that adults can learn how to value the goal-setting process instead of merely attaining their goals without having a clear idea as to why they are important to them to reach (Bandura, 1989). Through the application of Bandura’s framework, educators can provide vast opportunities for learners to experience success vicariously through the success of others. This is possible with the help of the introduction of collaborative activities, project-based learning, and practice communities, all of which underlines the importance of the social aspect of learning. The mentioned experiences are expected to have a positive influence on the perceptions of learners as to how they develop personal self-efficacy, self-regulation, or self-direction skills, all of which are imperative for the process of adult teaching and learning.
The personal philosophy statement mentions the importance of helping adult learners understand the goals behind their learning and how they can use the learned knowledge and skills in the future. As a rule, adults go back to learning when they need to develop new skills or acquire knowledge that would help them advance as either individual in their personal life or professionals in their careers, and it is imperative to consider the use of learning theories as frameworks for guiding effective learning. The self-direction and self-efficacy goals embedded into the Social Learning Theory are for what adult learners strive for, and it is important for educators to help the adults that they teach become as independent as possible to make sure that they know how to connect past experiences and knowledge to the actual process of learning. Again, there is no place for an educator to be the focus of the learning process; while being a role model is important, the social component of learning should outweigh the emphasis on the expertise and knowledge of an instructor.
Adults learn differently from children since they usually have a clear understanding of why education is important to them. Because the goals of learning are different, the approach that educators take is also different. Both Social Learning Theory and Social Exchange Theory emphasizes the needs of learners and provide a framework based on which educators can develop instructional strategies and materials to facilitate the process. Since the learning setting is a social context, instructors are expected to help adults develop self-direction, self-regulation, and self-efficacy skills that can help them reach the objectives of learning that they have established previously. While there is no one unified approach to adult instruction development, the incorporation of learning theories can be helpful for educators.
Bandura, A. (1989). Social cognitive theory. In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of child development. Vol. 6. Six theories of child development (pp. 1-60). JAI Press.
Mukhalalati, B., & Taylor, A. (2019). Adult learning theories in context: A quick guide for healthcare professional educators. Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development, 6, 1-10.
Muneja, M. (2015). A theoretical basis for adult learning facilitation: Review of selected articles. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(31), 54-61.
Picciano, A. (2017). Theories and frameworks for online education: Seeking an integrated model. Online Learning, 21(3), 166-190.
Zhou, M., & Brown, D. (2017). Educational learning theories: 2nd edition. Web.