Pathways of Adult Learning

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Differences between adult learners and young learners are crucial in order to develop the most effective strategies to educate, demonstrate, teach, and share the experience. If two students interested in adult education are oriented to sharing their opinions regarding the learning experience received during the course on the aspects of adult education, their visions, conclusions, and reflections can be quite different because they are also adult learners.

The reason is that adult learners are inclined to focus their attention on those aspects and features of the course that are viewed as meaningful and useful personally for them. Adult learners are no longer the learners directed by the instructor.

Self-direction, as well as motivation, is the key to successful adult education (Lange & Chubb, 2009, p. 62). Therefore, it is important to present two perspectives and reflections on studying the course in adult education, while determining the details that are meaningful for two different adult learners who plan to educate and train other adults in the future. The purpose of this reflection paper is to demonstrate how different adult learners can be even in their perception of the same course.

Points Important to Reflect On

The First Perspective

The main thing to focus on while discussing adult education is the importance of the context. It is necessary to understand that adult learners are shaped by their contexts and previous experiences, they have different backgrounds and visions, and they have their own personal opinions. As a result, while focusing on educating adults, it is important to understand the context and the purpose of learning in order to develop the individual approach to the person and assist in studying appropriately. The principle of focusing on the context can be discussed as typical for working with adults in society.

The second important thing is the necessity of concentrating on the individual characteristics of adult learners. This aspect is always a challenge for an educator, despite the age of a learner. Placed in different contexts, adult learners are also different in their learning styles, approaches, goals, and intentions. It is a mistake to expect that adult learners will focus on completing tasks without understanding the goal of their activities (Kawalilak & Groen, 2014, p. 112). Differences in learning styles are more obvious for adult learners, and it can become a barrier for studying if an educator ignores this aspect.

The third thing to discuss is the unexpected difficulty to help adults realize the principles of not only self-directed learning but also lifelong learning. It is true that adult learners can take more responsibility when they have the goals for learning, but the problem is in the fact that self-direction can often result in indulgence because adults see themselves as experienced enough to know what is better for them in terms of learning. Therefore, the application of the adult education theory to practice supports the unexpected conclusion that adults often need more control to learn successfully.

The Second Perspective

The course provides great inspiration for those persons who are adult learners and want to educate other adult learners because there are many opportunities for self-analysis and reflection. Each aspect that is learned by an adult is perceived through the prism of the personal experience, and the course materials are helpful to understand how to use this personal knowledge, theory, and practice in order to achieve better results in learning.

While focusing on the principle discussed during the course that can resonate with the ideals of an adult learner, it is important to accentuate the importance of motivation. Educators agree that adult learners are more motivated than young learners when they start their studies, and intrinsic motivation plays the key role in this case (Lange, 2006, p. 94). However, motivation is a matter not only because of the learners’ age. Referring to the personal experience, it is possible to state that adults have the developed leadership qualities, and the achievement motivation is more typical for them.

Still, there is also one more tendency characteristic for adult learners that is rather unexpected but easily explained. Adult learners are the most flexible learners who can use all the advantages of such resources as online college courses or massive open online courses. Adults are interested in saving their time, working in comfortable settings, and inabilities to choose and make decisions. This orientation to the adult learners’ needs is a result of the post-modern era (Kilgore, 2001, p. 54). On the one hand, online courses or training programs can be discussed as barriers for adults because of undeveloped skills in using the Internet resources. On the other hand, adult learners choose non-formal settings for learning, and computers are the best devices for them to achieve the goals.

The Application of the Learned Aspects

One of the main conclusions associated with adult education is that this process is challenging, but rather interesting because the aspects of adult education are based not only on the educational theories but also on the social theories, trends, and phenomena. Therefore, it is possible to see adult education as the cooperation of an instructor and a learner. The result of such cooperation is an achieved goal, for which the adult can start the study (Garcia, Elbeltagi, Brown, & Dungay, 2015, p. 878). From this point, adult learners are independent participants of the educational process who need more space for individual learning and decision-making.

While choosing the career of an educator, a business trainer, a community, or social worker, a person should understand that in most cases the work with adults is a more challenging task than the work with young people. The course readings and materials provided students with a lot of information on the user perspectives and approaches to follow while working with adult learners. The learned materials are significant to provide the theoretical background for the adult learning to view the question from the perspectives of Postmodernism, Feminism, or the Critical Theory (Lange, 2006).

In addition, the learned information is also important to practice in order to emphasize the moments that are necessary to be taken into account, for instance, the perception of learners as participants and the focus on their intrinsic motivation (Kawalilak & Groen, 2014, p. 84). As a result, focusing on the overview of the adult education aspects, it is possible to broaden the scope of interests in this sphere.

Comparison of Experiences and Insights

In spite of sharing the theoretical visions regarding the principles of adult education, it is possible to have different practical experiences and evidence to support this or that view. Thus, it is possible to agree that the course provides complete and important information on the principles of adult education and allied concepts. On the other hand, the experience can demonstrate that these views are based on different grounds.

For instance, one person can focus on the importance of the context for educating adults and choose to support the ideas with references to the post-modern theories. Another person will choose to check the theoretical claims in practice and will observe differences in how adults can organize their learning process, demonstrate the time management skills, or set goals for further work with the material.

Differences in perception and usage of the course materials are typical for learners, and they can be explained with references to the career goals set by adult learners. It is important to state once again that adult learners who share their opinions on the course in this paper also act and learn according to the theoretical principles of adult education. Therefore, the similarities and differences in achievements, determined interesting aspects, and selected key principles depend on the previously set goals and intrinsic motivation, as it is typical for adult learners. We can share the ideas regarding the importance of these or those learned facts, but conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the material for personal learning will be different.

In this context, studying how adults can learn, the authors of this paper can conclude about the credibility or effectiveness of this or that idea referring to their own experience. As a result, the reflection on studying the course becomes more complete and personal in its nature. We are sure that the course can become an important fundament to develop further knowledge of adult and higher education principles.


Garcia, E., Elbeltagi, I., Brown, M., & Dungay, K. (2015). The implications of a connectivist learning blog model and the changing role of teaching and learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(4), 877–894.

Kawalilak, C., & Groen, J. (2014). Pathways of adult learning: Professional and education narratives. Toronto, Canada: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

Kilgore, D. W. (2001). Critical and postmodern perspectives on adult learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 201(89), 53-62.

Lange, E. A. (2006). Challenging social philosophobia. In T. Fenwick, T. Nesbit, & B. Spencer (Eds.), Contexts of Adult Education (pp. 92-104). Toronto, Canada: Thompson Educational Publishing.

Lange, E. A., & Chubb, A. (2009). Critical environmental adult education in Canada: Student environmental activism. In P. Cranton & L. English (Eds.), Reaching out across the border: Canadian perspectives in adult education (pp. 61-72). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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