Adult Learning Theories and Labyrinthine Learning

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Adult Learning Theories

Adult learning theories include andragogy, experiential learning and social cognitive theory. Andragogy defines specific characteristics of adult learners with a view of influencing implementation of effective learning strategies in adult education (Taylor & Kroth, 2009). It provides for self-directed learning, which is appropriate for adult learners. The principles of andragogy are applicable in a wide range of learning settings involving adult learners. Notably, andragogy is suitable for informing the design of learning environments that allow learners to lead their own learning experiences. However, andragogy focuses only on adult learners regardless of the fact that some of its principles can be applied in other learning environments (Taylor & Kroth, 2009).

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Experiential learning theory leverages on the experiences of leaners in promoting knowledge acquisition. This theory is appropriate for adult learners since they are normally experienced and practical-oriented (McCarthy, 2010). In this sense, experiential learning agrees with the principles of andragogy. The theory provides for active engagement of learners through the use of specific strategies, such as discussions and presentations. Therefore experimental learning theory is suitable for encouraging the building of an interactive learning environment, which is meant to provide adult learners with opportunities of sharing their diverse experiences during learning processes. However, experimental learning theory is criticized for perceived lack of adequate exploration into the idea of concrete experiences of learners (McCarthy, 2010). Therefore, this theory may not provide a clear picture of the experiences of each adult learner upon which learning strategies are designed and implemented.

Social cognitive theory provides for the application of real-life examples in learning activities and processes. This theory is relevant to adult learning environments as it allows learners to relate the knowledge they acquire with their professional practices (Mazziotta, Mummendey, & Wright, 2011). The theory also focuses on human and social behaviors exhibited by learners. This makes it suitable for adult learners as they are motivated by emotional and social experiences in the execution of educational tasks. Furthermore, social learning theory is suitable for implementing interactive learning strategies among adult learners, including the use of collaborative tools to facilitate sharing of knowledge (Mazziotta et al., 2011).

Developing a Learning Theory

My theory is referred to as labyrinthine learning. The new theory provides that learning is effective when it occurs within a complicated network of learners who interact actively using a wide range of emerging technologies, applications and platforms. Labyrinthine learning theory is influenced by the principles of andragogy and social learning theory. My theory is based on the principle that learning processes are effective when learners are provided with opportunities of leading their own learning experiences through a labyrinth of learning networks mediated by emerging technologies, such as personal learning networks. The principle of my theory was informed by the self-concept of andragogy. Labyrinthine learning theory specifically provides that learning effectively occurs across a technology-driven social network of learners. The social context of labyrinthine learning was informed by the social cognitive theory.

Labyrinthine learning theory targets adult learners. It provides for the building of social connections among instructors, mentors, administrators, field experts and practitioners aimed at promoting sharing of knowledge, expertise, skills and ideas within online learning environments. Through labyrinthine learning, adult learners will have access to a wide range of information resources and people to answer their diverse questions. The main idea behind labyrinthine learning theory is the need for a shift to a collaborative learning paradigm which allows diverse social networks of learners to actively share learning resources and knowledge (Collins & Halverson, 2010). The application of labyrinthine learning theory will enable adult learners to develop a global perspective and to appreciate the use of emerging technologies to access diverse pools of information and knowledge in their areas of interest.

Labyrinthine learning theory will serve the needs of adult learners as it provides for the building of connections between them and experts in their respective fields for interactive information exchanges and sharing of diverse experiences. It will also allow adult learners to lead their own learning processes by establishing personal learning networks and participating actively within online communities of other learners, experts and instructors within their disciplines. Since adult learners are highly motivated, they are anticipated to develop computer skills that will allow them to develop personal learning networks for facilitating their own learning activities and processes.

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The principles of existing adult learning theories do not provide for the application of emerging technologies, especially personal learning networks, to facilitate adult learning processes (Merriam, 2008). This is regardless of the fact that the rapidly changing technological environment has a significant influence on the design and implementation of learning paradigms involving adult learners (Donavant, 2009). In addition, adult learners are increasingly appreciating the role of technology in meeting their needs for convenience, flexibility and continuous learning (Collins & Halverson, 2010). Therefore, I developed the labyrinthine learning theory to fill the aforementioned gaps in adult education. Notably, my theory will allow adult learners to join communities of instructors and other learners in their fields for unlimited learning and sharing of educational material. Furthermore, the application of labyrinthine learning theory will enable adult learners to attend webinars for the implementation of flexible and learner-driven training programs.

The Future Path of Adult Education

The traditional instructor-led classrooms characterizing most adult learning programs are not aligned with the changing needs of adult learners. Andragogy, experiential learning and social cognitive theories are effective for traditional classroom settings as they provide for instructor-led learning interactions and experiences (Merriam, 2008). Even though these theories make participative learning possible, they do not provide for the implementation of emerging technologies to promote the participation of learners in training programs and activities (Donavant, 2009).

On the other hand, labyrinthine learning theory provides for the application of a labyrinth of personal learning networks to meet the changing preferences of adult learners and their increasing adoption of technology for efficient execution of both professional and training obligations. The future of adult education will be characterized by increasing use of learning cafes involving trainers and learners from different geographical locations (Collins & Halverson, 2010). This means that the technology will be the main driver of interaction among trainers and adult learners. Therefore, the traditional models provided by andragogy, experiential learning and social cognitive theories are less likely to meet the future learning needs of adult learners.

Diversity will shape the future learning environment paradigm. This is due to the need for the utilization of a wide range of resources to implement cost effective and flexible training programs (Donavant, 2009). This means that adult learners will need to utilize learning opportunities within online platforms with a goal of joining diverse communities of trainers, experts and other adult learners in their areas of practice. Since the principles of andragogy, experiential learning and social cognitive theories do not provide for the integration of specific technologies into adult learning programs, they are not designed to meet the future needs of adult learners, such as unlimited access to diverse learning resources within online platforms (Merriam, 2008). The future of adult education will also be characterized by open learning environments, which will allow learners to organize their own learning activities and processes (Collins & Halverson, 2010). Open learning is supported by the self-concept of andragogy. However, open learning is more effective when it is based on a maze of personal learning networks involving a diverse community of adult learners and instructors, as provided by the labyrinthine learning theory.

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The future needs of adult learners will be effectively met through the adoption and implementation of an inclusive theory. Therefore, it is recommended that the principles and concepts of current theories in adult education should be integrated into the design of technology-driven adult education programs. Concepts and principles related to interaction, collaboration, participation and networking via online platforms should be drawn from current adult learning theories with a goal of designing an inclusive theory and implementing it in adult education activities.

An inclusive theory will meet the needs of adult learners within McLuhan’s global village as it will allow them to apply personal learning networks to facilitate participative, collaborative and interactive learning across a wide range of online platforms. In addition, an inclusive theory will allow learners to organize their own learning activities with a purpose of interacting with diverse communities of experts, instructors, trainers and developers of educational content within McLuhan’s global village. Notably, an integrated theory will eliminate the weaknesses of the current adult education theories and utilize their strengths with a goal of meeting the changing needs of adult learners within McLuhan’s global village.


Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2010). The second educational revolution: Rethinking education in the age of technology. Journal of computer assisted learning, 26(1), 18-27.

Donavant, B. W. (2009). The new, modern practice of adult education online instruction in a continuing professional education setting. Adult Education Quarterly, 59(3), 227-245.

Mazziotta, A., Mummendey, A., & Wright, S. C. (2011). Vicarious intergroup contact effects Applying social-cognitive theory to intergroup contact research. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 14(2), 255-274.

McCarthy, M. (2010). Experiential learning theory: From theory to practice. Journal of Business & Economics Research, 8(5), 131.

Merriam, S. B. (2008). Adult learning theory for the twenty‐first century. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2008(119), 93-98.

Taylor, B., & Kroth, M. (2009). Andragogy’s transition into the future: Meta-analysis of andragogy and its search for a measurable instrument. Journal of Adult Education, 38(1), 1.

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