The literature which describes and analyzes the important aspects of adult education - within the Human Resources Development genre - is vitally important in relating to today's employees who seek - and deserve - learning opportunities within their workplace environment. It provides a point of reference, it offers stimulating ideas for digestion and analysis, and it zeros in on the issue at hand, which is that learning should be encouraged and facilitated by employers, and it should be done in such a way that gains in individual learning and knowledge will transfer to competency on the job, and ultimately, profitability for the employer.
An exceptionally useful article by Theodore J. Marchese, entitled, "Insights from Neuroscience and Anthropology, Cognitive Science and Work-Place Studies": e.g., the brain is "remarkably plastic across the lifespan..."
Early experiences and genetic inheritance are very important," Marchese writes in his piece, 'The New Conversations About Learning'. "[And yet] all kinds of people are capable of incredible feats of learning through decades of their life." And the "best news" Marchese sees, is, "the evidence coming forth of the brain's plasticity across the lifespan, of human abilities ever to learn, to 'effloresce' in creativity in the right conditions of challenge and safety."
Marchese goes on to explain that employers who have the vision to fully utilize and develop the rich experiences of adults helps erase the "academic folk wisdom that wants to categorize people early and keep them there."
In developing his argument that learning is evolutionary - one "natural" way of learning is "apprenticeship," he asserts - and that the study of how people learn is not without controversy. Meantime, he shares Dee Dickenson's bullet points - useful for an HR professional to print out in 36-point type and thumbtack to a bulletin board or a wall - about how a person actually goes through the process of learning: a) The brain is remarkably plastic across the lifespan; b) powerful learning is prompted when all five sense are engaged; c) adequate time is needed for each phase of information processing (input/assimilation/output); and d) emotional well-being is essential to intellectual functioning, indeed to survival.
A second set of "how the brain works in the context of learning" bullet points that Marchese feels worthy of sharing originated from Australian Geoffrey Caine: a) body, mind, and brain exist in dynamic unity; b) our brain is a social brain; c) the search for meaning is innate; d) the brain establishes meaning through patterning; e) emotions are crucial to patterning; f) learning involves conscious and unconscious processes; g) complex learning is enhanced by challenge, inhibited by threat; and h) every brain is uniquely organized, with resulting differences of talent and preference.
If our brain "is a social brain" and the search for meaning in our lives "is innate," then it is incumbent on employers (and HR managers) to not only get the most out of employees in terms of profitability, but to get the most out of the brains of their workers in order to build a workplace culture that carries the company through the highs and lows as they seek long-term success (and yes, profits).
Malcolm S Knowles - Andragogy broken down into digestible bites
Andragogy: a set of guidelines, a philosophy, a set of assumptions, and a theory which essentially is "an honest attempt to focus on the learner..." (Introduction, The Adult Learner, Malcolm S Knowles)
Meanwhile, what is learning? How does it work? When an adult is seeking and finding knowledge in association with that person's workplace - either in a company classroom or in a facility outside the workplace provided by the company - that person is, according to Knowles (page 11), doing three things: 1) mastering or acquiring what is already known about something; 2) extending and clarifying the meaning of one's experience; and 3) engaging in an organized, intentional process of testing ideas relevant to problems.
What is known about adult learning? Why is there a lack of research, according to Knowles, into this field? One reason Knowles gives is that perhaps because schools were originally designed to teach children. The seventh century school was set up to teach boys the priesthood, and the label attached to schools in that genre was "pedagogy," which means "the art and science of teaching children" (36).
Knowles points out that it wasn't until the post-WWI era that "a growing body of notions about the unique characteristics of adult learners began emerging." Two "streams of inquiry" were at work - scientific stream and artistic or intuitive / reflective stream - in the initial launching of adult education programs, in the late 1920s. Knowles sets the scene for adult learning through the artistic stream on page 37, when he quotes from Eduard C. Lindeman's book, The Meaning of Adult Education (1926). Lindeman writes that adult learning should be structured with "small groups of aspiring adults who desire to keep their minds fresh and vigorous."
Those small groups begin to learn by "confronting pertinent situations" and "dig down into the reservoirs of their experience before resorting to texts and secondary facts." These worthy and interested adults are "led in the discussion by teachers who are also searchers after wisdom and not oracles: this constitutes the setting for adult education, the modern quest for life's meaning."
When he says "searchers and not oracles" he alludes to the fact that "none but the humble become good teachers of adults. Why is that true? Because, the fact is that in an adult learning environment, "the student's experience counts for as much as the teacher's knowledge. Both are exchangeable at par...in some of the best adult classes it is sometimes difficult to discover who is learning most, the teacher or the students."
Every HR professional should be aware of the benefits that accrue to the adult employee engaged in learning programs (those above and beyond the physical tasks performed in the workplace) - and by logical extension, such worthy benefits are harvested by the company in fruitful ways - and should encourage learning wherever reasonable and practical.
Knowles captures the Lindeman "Assumptions about Adult Learners," as though he had a room-full of HR managers in a huge banquet room, and was giving a helpful lesson: 1) Adults are motivated to learn as they experience needs and interests that learning will satisfy; 2) Adults' orientation to learning is life-centered; 3) Experience is the richest source for adults' learning; 4) Adults have a deep need to be self-directing; 5) Individual differences among people increase with age.
The Profession and Practice of Adult Education - Merriam, Sharan B., and Brocket, Ralph, G.
The authors of this book critique public educators rather sharply (17), when they contend that "Most practitioners in adult education are so caught up in the everyday concerns of getting the job done that they rarely consider what they ultimately hope to accomplish." If this is true, then certainly practitioners of public education directed at workplace learning for adults should be chosen with great care by HR personnel. Merriam et al. say that too often in adult education, the aerobics instructor "probably thinks of physical fitness as the goal," rather than adding to the knowledge and potential of the adult learners on a pragmatic life-centered basis. And the "nurse educator" probably thinks the goal is "increased medical knowledge," rather than helping adults fulfill goals of self-improvement and stronger career achievements.
The authors of this book quote Knowles as saying the "mission" of adult education is "satisfying the needs of individuals, institutions, and society." They quote Knowles again as saying the ultimate goal for the individual is "human fulfillment" and as for the institution that is providing opportunities for workers to learn, the purpose is to "develop its constituency, improve its operational effectiveness, and establish 'public understanding and involvement'."
Article in Adult Education Quarterly - Does the ongoing Globalization of the market and of workplace dynamics set up the more vital need for continuing education of workers, as pivotal to their individualization and productivity?
The second assumption that Lindeman expressed, recorded by Knowles, alludes to the "life-centered" orientation to learning, and it certainly can be seen as reasonably sensible; adults have lived longer than entry-level employees, younger employees, so their work experience has for them a point from which perspective is deeper and meaningful. (Or, if they don't have that point for perspective, work is simply tedium, and managers are losing out on the potential richness of an older person's efforts.)
The world is changing rapidly, and along with it workplace dynamics are being transformed; also, attitudes about productivity and profit and retirement are being re-shaped and re-defined. It is no longer just a picture of a one-dimensional worker toiling through the years until retirement by driving to the shop on a crowded freeway, nine to five, and coming home to watch Walter Cronkite discuss the post-Cold War realities in Europe and America. Things have moved very quickly into a new…