While both gender and race are positionalities that are difficult to hide (not that one should need or want to, anyway), sexual orientation is not necessarily something that is known about a person, and its affects on the learning process can be very different. The very fact that sexual orientation can be hidden can create a situation where the learner closes off, hiding not only their sexuality but demurring away from other opportunities of expression and engagement as well. Conversely, if an individual with an alternative sexuality was open about this fact, it could very well cause discomfort in other adult learners who have a marked generational bias against many alternative sexualities and lifestyles (Cain). Both situations could provide useful grounds for personal growth in self-acceptance and self-security, for the learner of a minority sexual orientation and for the other learners in the class, respectively (Cain).
Situated Cognition v. Experiential Learning
One of the key features of adult education is its consistent move away from the same type of classroom learning situations used to educate children in most schools, and an emphasis on self-directed and experiential learning (Knowles 1980). Ongoing research and experimentation has suggested other methods of learning that are equally or possibly even more effective for adults, with situated cognition purported to be the most "natural" and effective way for the human mind, adult or otherwise, to take in new information and skills -- to learn, that is (Hansman 2001; Pickles 2009). Situated cognition is, in fact, a specific type of experiential learning, and the similarities between it and other more general types of experiential learning are numerous (Hansman 2001). There are also significant differences, however, that will require some elucidation in order for the efficacy of situated cognition to become clear.
Standard experiential learning and situated cognition both rely on actually doing the thing that is being learned -- engaging in the skill if it is a skill that is being learned, or actually examining the rock when learning about geology -- it is "hands-on" that doesn't simply allow for touch and physical contact with the learning material, but that goes beyond that to allow for demonstrable and self evident processes and facts to emerge (Hansman 2001; Pickles 2009). Essentially, experiential learning is learning by doing, or experiencing. All of this applies to both more traditional concepts of experiential learning and situational cognition, which is a specialized type of experiential learning (Hansman 2001). Both can and often do take place in groups, as well, though group learning is not required of experiential learning as a broad class of learning and/or instructional styles (Hansman 2001; Pickles 2009).
This leads us to the primary differences between situational cognition and other types of experiential learning. First and foremost, situated cognition takes place in real world situations, and depends on the social interactions between learners, instructors, and possibly others (Hansman 2001). There is still a necessity for personal experience in a situated cognition setting; simply being a member of a learning group that is engaged in experiential learning does not qualify the event as situational cognition. This allows for an experiential learning where those in the group can aid in the progression of learning of the less experienced members of the group, directly reinforcing the learning through social interaction (Hansman 2001). Situational cognition has fewer controls than much experiential learning simply because it takes place in real-world social situations, and this can lead to the learning of skills and information that were not even necessarily consciously sought by the learner or the group, but which when encountered can be mastered through the group functioning as a learning unit and through individual engagement with the learning task at hand (Hansman 2001).
Research has shown situational cognition to occur in everyday situations such as a grocery store without the experience becoming consciously one of learning -- as various social interactions require the possession of new skills and/or the processing of new information, learning automatically occurs in order to facilitate the continued functioning of the social situation (Hansman 2001). This makes intuitive sense, as well as being backed up by extensive empirical evidence.
Self-Directed v. Transformational Learning
Two predominant perspective concerning how adults learn are self-directed learning and transformative learning, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive but which likely do not both equitably apply to the process (es) of adult learning. Adult learning is necessarily more self-directed than most childhood learning and instruction, as the adult brings both more experience and presumably a more developed sense of self (in most cases) to bear on their learning than the typical child learner as well as a more specific set of standards and expectations (Knowles 1980). Adult learning is also often transformative simply due to the strength and/or specific nature of the internal motivation to learn that is the hallmark of many adult learners (Knowles 1980). Truly transformative learning, however, can clearly be differentiated from other types of learning based on the specifics of the situation that can lead to it.
Transformative learning, according to Mezirow (1975), begins with a disorienting dilemma and ends with a restored equilibrium (as ctd. In Cranton 2002). This is highly similar to standard self-directed learning in that the learner defines the issue and how to go about solving or understanding it. In both self-directed and transformative learning, the issue or "disorienting dilemma" is most likely not something within the learner's control, but it is still up to them to define the specific issue and identify methods for resolving them (Cranton 2002). The more conscious this act of framing the situation -- and the more intense and/or immediate the situation is to the learner -- the more likely it is to lead to transformational learning (Isopahkala-Bouret 2008).
Transformative learning by definition requires a major shift in viewpoint or perspective, and this is usually instigated at the outset of the learning process -- indeed, is often the catalyst for learning -- when some incident, situation, or revelation causes the learner to realize that they have been in possession of an incorrect or incomplete worldview, and they set out to perfect this perspective (Cranton 2002). Self-directed learning, on the other hand, does not require epiphanies of the same degree, but does imply a greater deal of autonomy and conscious control over perspective. That is, the transformative learner is made more consciously aware of making a deliberate change to heir worldview, whereas the self-directed learner is more aware of making deliberate learning choices within their given worldview -- though this does not preclude self-directed learners from adjusting their worldview or perspective as well, of course (Cranton 2002). Transformative learning also often requires more input from exterior sources that might not be explicitly sought by the learner but that will nonetheless be applied by them to the process of establishing a new perspective (Cranton 2002).
The similarities between transformative and self-directed learning far outweigh the differences, and as mentioned above the two types of learning are not mutually exclusive; transformative learning can take place in a very self-directed manner. That being said, self-directed learning is almost certainly the more common and most applicable of the two learning types; it is more easily achieved by both the learner and the educator (Cranton 2004). This does not mean that transformative learning is not something to strive for, but a transformative learning experience often comes down to the individual learners' situation and need for transformation (Isopahkala-Bouret 2008).
Critical Theory v Postmodernism
The construction of knowledge and power in critical theory and a postmodernist perspective have many features in common, but there are key differences that render these two concepts quite distinct from each other. The implications that these different perspective might not be as noticeable in all learning situations, but an understanding of these theories and their assessment of how learning is accomplished is essential to an understanding of learning theory in general (Kilgore 2001). Both critical theory and the postmodernist perspective have developed concrete understandings and explanations of how information is transmitted and received both by individuals and by societies and cultures at large, and thus how learning is achieved on both macro and micro levels (Kilgore 2001). An objective analysis of these concepts is difficult in that such analysis inherently rejects basic postmodernist tenets, but it will develop some understanding of these different perspectives and the ways they interact with and predict learning (Kilgore 2001).
Both critical theory and postmodernism are concerned with power, and the way that power within a given society or other social framework works as a factor in determining the direction and degree of knowledge (Kilgore 2001). Both perspectives see learning as an activity made up of receiving and transmitting chunks of information or "discourses" to, from, and about the social world (Kilgore 2001). These two similarities illustrate…