Adult Learning 2

Can an old dog learn new tricks? Absolutely. As I sit in the third day of a class that was recommended by my program coordinator, I reflect that I have been exposed to a boatload of information on a brand new set of topics. Is it going to stick in my brain and be useful in my future? I doubt it. I have no background knowledge to refer to and I do not speak in the plethora of acronyms used in the manual. This was a bad match.

Does this mean adult learners should NOT try to learn novel ideas and processes? Absolutely, not. Any effective learning environment needs to make connections to prior knowledge. It is the role of the teacher to find those connections, even if they seem to be remote connections.  For example, in the study of motion and forces, we can discuss inertia, Newton’s Laws, Bernoulli’s Principle, acceleration, or velocity. These words are meaningless unless I also talk about the experiences like going around a sharp corner in a car, the feelings at the bottom of the first drop on a roller coaster, or slipping on ice.

In a New York Times article, Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California states that, “As adults we may not always learn quite as fast, but we are set up for this next developmental step.” The Times’s health editor Barbara Strauch discusses how scientists have looked into how brains age. “Older brains continue to develop through and beyond middle age…It gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. It can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.” (Strauch)[1]

So what does this all mean for the older adult in the midst of a career change seeking retraining? I guess, rule number one is that my new training must somehow be connected to something I already know. I don’t need to be in the same field, but the macro skills I have need to be transferrable. Older learners need to seek meaning at a deep level in order to build the new those new pathways through the old grey matter.


Strauch, B. (n.d.). How to Train the Aging Brain. The New York Times.  October 10, 2014.

Adult Learning 1

What are the best methods for retraining older workers? Here in lies a conundrum of many training programs I have found. The content is typically of a higher level and a faster pace… however, the exponentially growing pace of technology and discoveries makes staying current a real challenge.

Pedagogy is helping young students learn, but andragogy is the process of helping adults learn.[1] As a secondary teacher, I was in a continuous cycle of learning new things. A Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and additional courses for recertification have given me a wide variety of college experiences: cohort, non-cohort, face-to-face, on-line, blended, vocational, and graduate level courses. When I order transcripts, I have a dozen schools to call.

I have gone back to school as a student over the last two years while searching for a post-teaching career. As some would say, “I got mad skills”, but I don’t have content area experience outside of teaching. What I have found, in seeking more training, is that my instructors have content area expertise, but little training in teaching methods. I found myself augmenting our class materials with self-created tools and strategy suggestions for my class members.

So what is missing when it comes to my learning? Practice and opportunities to apply the new knowledge need to be available to anyone in any training program. Walking me through content without independent practice time and no informal assessments to check for understanding is ineffective.

Researcher Malcolm Knowles observed that adults learn best when: 1. They understand why something is important to know or do. 2. They have the freedom to learn in their own way. 3. Learning is experiential. 4. The time is right for them to learn. 5. The process is positive and encouraging. [2]

The Association of Colleges and Universities identified the following as essential for effective 21st Century learning: “The highest-quality first-year experiences place a strong emphasis on critical inquiry, frequent writing, information literacy, collaborative learning, and other skills that develop students’ intellectual and practical competencies [3] This is not limited to the 18 year old right out of high school. Anyone who is new to a field should be taught with these emphases.

[3] High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter by George D. Kuh, (Washington, DC: AAC&U, 2008).