We’re All Adult Learners Now

For myself and for most of us, we went through a traditional educational track. We attended public education through the 12th grade and then maybe attended two or four years of college. After that point we were done, our education stopped when we entered the workforce. It was our employer’s responsibility to train us for all the necessities of the job.

This is becoming increasingly less so today. We now know that our initial years of learning in public education and even college is just the beginning. Our learning does not end when the years of formal education does, but continues onward in new and unpredictable ways.

Are we preparing ourselves for this journey into continuous learning? Are we ready for what lies ahead? In most ways we are not, but we have an obligation to start.

I’ve worked in business and industry for over 20 years, writing technical documentation and training materials. All of this has made me reflect on how different learning is in the workforce compared to how learning occurs in schools. This leaves many people unprepared for the kind of learning that is required in adulthood.

Training is Specific

We should look at the characteristics of each student and design each learning event to meet their specific needs. We would never train engineers the same way as factory-line operators. This is because their needs for the learning are very different. Training has always been a necessity within business and industry, but it is very expensive and the amount of learning required—with more and more technology developed everyday—is growing exponentially. Consequently, going forward, the employer is going to take less of a role in determining and providing the training needs of the employees. It will be the employees themselves that will need to determine and complete the learning that is best for them, all in order to keep up and remain competitive.

Helping Students to become Adult Learners

We really need to begin to help students learn how to be adult learners, help launch them into learning for life, not just for organized classes. This process should start in high school and requires that students take some control of their own learning. It also needs to utilize technology because technology is increasingly going to play a larger role in how we receive and use information in the future.

Students must learn how to self-direct their own learning. Like many other countries, I believe that formal education should begin to slow down and even end by age 15 or 16. At this point, students really should start to determine for themselves what is important for them. If they are planning to attend a formal university, they may wish to continue in a standard academic route. If college is not a good fit, there should be other options. Only this way can they determine where their interests and abilities lie, and begin the process of developing and continuing to develop those interests and abilities.

How can Technology Play a Part in this Process?

As a student of Psychology, I learned that our brain actually works in three ways; we have three different memory types and each type is very important to our intellectual development. We have semantic memory for knowledge, episodic memory for sensory experiences and procedural memory for skill-learning. All three memories need to be included in our education process, especially as we enter adulthood.

We can use technology applications to assist with knowledge development in our semantic memories. We know that tutorials can help us learn completely new knowledge or knowledge where we need a little extra help. We also know that the diversity of distance learning applications can provide knowledge in a wider variety of subject areas and provide knowledge that is advanced.

Technology and Memory

Technology applications can also assist us with learning through the senses in relation to our episodic memories. Media presentations and even games can show us the world (literally) and open our eyes to what is possible. Lastly, we can improve our procedural memories with technology applications that emphasize practice. You know that you don’t have to think about how to ride a bike, you just jump on and start riding. This is the same for most skills. Simulations are a great way to practice skills—like how a pilot practices navigating an airplane through a wind tunnel. Students can be awarded certificates or badges after learning skills that can be documented much like grades.

Together these three areas of technology integration can provide a useful scaffolding or integration of newer and adult learning methods. Once students become familiar with these different options, they can begin to direct more of their own learning. When students are introduced to these methods in a meaningful way, before they enter the workforce, will they be able to determine how to direct their own learning much like adults can and should do.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, prozla.

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