adult learning theories
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Learning Cities for Adult Learners (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 145)
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
In Learning Cities for Adult Learners, Leodis Scott compiles seven articles that explore how cities are uniquely positioned to provide new directions for adult and continuing education. “Adult education needs more space,” Scott writes, and scholars and practitioners must take the lead in building larger spaces for all learners (1). The larger spaces are cities themselves – “learning cities” that take education beyond the traditional walls of schools, colleges, and workplaces in order to connect and grow in all life experiences. Scott suggests cities can take on the characteristics of learning, and in doing so, adults of every social class and educational level can experience a new quality of life.
Scott is cofounder and research scholar at LearnLong Institute for Education and Learning Research, and lecturer in adult learning philosophy and practice at DePaul University–School for New Learning and Columbia University–Teachers College. Contributors to the volume come from a variety of universities, research centers, and programs that are committed to connecting the scholarship of adult learning with concrete practices that encourage a more widespread approach to learning. Most articles are co-authored, further demonstrating how collaboration and cross-disciplinary thinking is a natural hallmark of building the necessary infrastructure for learning cities.
After an Editor’s Note by Scott, Connie Watson and Aimee Tiu Wu introduce key themes of lifelong learning and lifelong education in Chapter 1, as they explore the evolution and reconstruction of learning cities for sustainable actions. In Chapter 2, Hiram E. Fitzgerald and Renee Zientek write about the connections between learning cities, systems change, and community engagement scholarship in the context of a learning city/region. Lyle Yorks and Jody Barto investigate in Chapter 3 the interconnections between workplace, organizational, and societal learning, showing how 21st-century cities must function to promote learning for a larger society. In Chapter 4, Alysia Peich and Cynthia Needles Fletcher provide research and a case study for how public libraries and cooperative extension can work as community partners for lifelong learning and learning cities. In Chapter 5, Joanne Howard, Diane Howard, and Ebbin Dotson provide a connected history of health and education and demonstrate the necessity of including both health and education endeavors in any strategic planning of learning cities. Dan K. Hibbler and Leodis Scott write in Chapter 6 about the role of leisure in humanizing learning cities. Finally, Scott provides a summary in Chapter 7 of the main themes from the book and suggests a way forward: scholars and practitioners in the field of adult and continuing education can become facilitators of learning cities so that citizens have the power and ability to construct their own cities appropriate to their needs.
This book is written for scholars and practitioners in adult learning and provides both a compelling vision and practical strategies for how citizens can work across fields and disciplines for the betterment of society. It will take leadership, vision, and talent to connect civic institutions in the formation of learning cities. One strategic type of institution not mentioned in the book is local religious communities. It seems that religious groups could be uniquely situated to both model and help facilitate the essential elements of a learning city. As scholars and practitioners continue to work towards this new direction for adult and continuing education, they will certainly do well to collaborate with as many different types of civic institutions as possible – for building a learning city is certainly worth the pursuit.
Facilitating Learning with the Adult Brain in Mind: A Conceptual and Practical Guide
Date Reviewed: March 7, 2016
Neuroscience is a burgeoning field, and Kathleen Taylor and Catherine Marienau mine it skillfully to craft Facilitating Learning with the Adult Brain in Mind. This book is not structured like many teaching books – it begins, after all, with a drawing of “The Theater of Knowing,” to which the authors refer throughout. But to write it off because it is unfamiliar would be a mistake – this is a valuable book for any teacher of adults, no matter the subject.
Taylor and Marienau had been searching for a book that would “describe in language accessible to non-neuroscientists… how the adult brain works and also how to use this understanding to construct more brain-aware approaches that help adults learn and perform more effectively in diverse settings” (ix). Eventually they discovered that “the book we wanted to read was the one we would have to write” (x). Readers are the beneficiaries here; the research is fresh, the applications diverse, and Marienau and Taylor model brain-aware approaches in how they structure the book.
Part One distills brain science for the lay reader. For example, we learn that anxiety and curiosity function simultaneously in the brain, and good teaching should both stimulate the curious brain and reassure the anxious brain. “The science in Part One is grounded in brain research; however, we frequently use stories and metaphors to illuminate technical ideas. In similar fashion, we often describe the brain and its functions in analogical rather than anatomical terms,” the authors describe (xv).
Part Two sets forth an array of practices – embodied, metaphorical, verbal, theoretical, and more – to enhance adult learning. Taylor and Marienau interviewed a number of practitioners whose best practices are illustrated here. Part Three brings theory and reflection into dialogue with both the neuroscience from Part One and the practices introduced in Part Two. “Rather than begin our book with theory, which is typical, we first illuminate practice in part Two because… theories are more meaningful when the brain can connect them to concrete experiences” (xvi).
Key ideas are reviewed at the end of each chapter; visual illustrations and boxed examples enhance and expand on ideas introduced in the main text. The authors suggest additional reading at points, rather than devoting too much time to subthemes. They also provide opportunities for reflection at the conclusion of the chapters, encouraging readers to draw or sketch reflections as a way of accessing different brain functions. At various points, the reader will experience recognition: “Ah, that’s why this happens.” Other sections will inspire new approaches to try.
“Without necessarily identifying them as such, many experienced facilitators use embodied, analogical activities in their workshops, classes, or coaching and consulting settings because they have found them to greatly enhance adults’ grasp of key concepts as well as their own practice” (175). Many college and seminary professors, by contrast, were never trained in teaching. Sections on multiple intelligences and Kolb’s model of experiential learning, then, offer an added boon to readers with less experience in educational theory.
Parenthetically, reviewing this book was so influential that it has now become assigned reading for all adjunct faculty in a department to which I recommended it.
Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice
Date Reviewed: January 30, 2015
Sharan Merriam and Laura Bierema aim to present “an overview of the major theories and research in adult learning in language that those new to adult education can understand.” They also seek to “[point] out applications of these ideas to practice” (xii). They have certainly hit the mark. They discuss relevant theory clearly and concisely, including multiple perspectives and ethical issues. Graphs, tables, and charts illustrate complexity and detail. Each chapter ends with a summary of its main points, a list of its highlights, and suggestions plus resources for pedagogical development and classroom practice. These features make Adult Learning eminently useful for college, university, and seminary professors, pedagogical development professionals, and anyone else who introduces adults to new ideas or new skills.
Adult Learning falls roughly into four parts. Chapters 1 and 2 set the stage. First, the authors examine the social and developmental contexts of adult learners. In order to thrive in a global and diverse society that values knowledge and technology, we must develop habits of lifelong learning. But what kind of learning best serves our needs? Should it change our behavior? Develop our bodies, minds, and spirits? Train our brains? Socialize us? Help us make sense of our experiences? The authors outline five approaches to consider based on these questions.
Chapters 3 to 5 are devoted to the latest research on three prominent theories of adult learning. Andragogy (as opposed to pedagogy) presumes that learners are self-directed, experienced, preparing for particular social roles, and ready to apply what they learn. Self-directed learning, although facilitated by teachers, makes adult learners responsible for what they learn and how they learn it. Transformative learning uses critical reflection and dialogue to help learners rethink their worldviews.
The next four chapters build on significant components of adult learning theory, exploring the roles of experience, body and spirit, motivation, and the brain. Adult learning is not limited to the cerebral dimensions of memory, intelligence, and cognition. It also involves activity and emotion; evocations of the past and incentives for the future. Merriam and Bierema discuss pedagogies for all five ways of knowing and end with three chapters on contemporary contexts for learning. These include digital technologies, approaches to critical thinking, and cultural diversity.
Adult Learning succeeds because the authors practice what they preach. They address an audience of adults who are developing themselves for a social role -- the role of a teacher. At the same time, they assume that their readers are not highly trained in pedagogical theory. As they share their expertise, therefore, they appeal to their audience’s teaching experience and motivations to hone the craft of teaching. They address contemporary higher educational contexts, help faculty think critically about teaching practice by presenting multiple perspectives, and offer concrete suggestions for applying new pedagogies. Adult Learning is a book to be read once, consulted often, put into practice, and shared with others.