Adult Learning Styles in the Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

For countries such as the U.S. And France, these needs can be reasonably expected to relate to the respective national cultures involved. For instance, in their book, Education in France, Corbett and Moon (1996) report, "An education system needs to justify itself constantly by reference to the values which underpin a nation's culture. In a democracy it is expected to transmit a range of intellectual, aesthetic and moral values which permeate the curriculum and approaches to teaching and learning" (p. 323).

Just as the United States has been confronted with a number of challenges in recent decades in identifying the best approach to providing educational services for an increasingly multicultural society, France has experienced its fair share of obstacles in this regard as well. According to Corbett and Moon, "In societies forced to come to terms with change, values are always challenged. French society, like others, had to adapt to the aftermath of the petrol crisis. The education system -- though here France was not alone -- had to digest changes [including] the transformation of selective secondary education into a mass system, and the confirmation of the permanent presence of ethnic minority groups. Both called into question traditional educational values" (p. 323). One of the most important findings that educators have come to recognize in the provision of educational services to adult learners is that they are not simply "bigger" pupils but rather all bring a vast amount of life experiences to the classroom that will affect their perception of what is being taught and its relevance for their needs. In this regard, Corder (2002) advises, "When you teach a group of adults, you must bear in mind that they are all experts. By that, I don't mean that they are all going to be leading lights in their profession or highly skilled craftspeople, but they all have life experience" (p. 8).

Furthermore, while busy classroom teachers in primary and secondary schools are tasked with a number of responsibilities that extend far beyond teaching such as classroom management and discipline, these issues are less relevant for adult learners who will likely be much more motivated to learn than their younger counterparts. For instance, Corder advises, "When an adult embarks on a course, he or she is by that very act showing a great deal of commitment. In the majority of cases, adults have paid for the course they are taking, and even if they haven't they probably need to follow the course for reasons of personal or professional gain. Only seldom is an adult coerced into going on a course. Your students are likely to be volunteers" (p. 8). Therefore, understanding what learning styles are most appropriate for adult learners represents a good first step in the development of effective adult education services, and these issues are discussed further below.

Kolb's Learning Styles.

It is clear that an individual's learning style will relate to what has been the motivating factor involved. For example, both young people and adult learners who are compelled (or forced) to attend school may not be as motivated as their counterparts to learn, but adults at least are supposed to possess the requisite level of maturity to do what is necessary if it is important to them for whatever reason. In this regard, according to Bryant, Kahle and Schafer (2005), "The social and psychological connections of learners are closely related to the learner's motivation. Adults have come to the psychological stage of life where they are responsible for their well being and can execute self-directed activities" (p. 255). To help identify the relationship between adult learners and learning strategies, Kolb developed a model for experiential learning by matching types of cognitive processes with specific types of instructional design strategies that are based upon his four learning styles; these four learning styles are associated with four types of learners: (a) reflectors, (b) theorists, - pragmatists, and (d) activists, described further as follows:

Reflectors observe, watch, and take in information from the environment and reflect upon these experiences often in a visual manner. They are characterized as imaginative types.

Theorists also observe and watch, and take in information from the environment, but they process the information abstractly and play with the idea of it in an analytical fashion. They are thus characterized as analytical types.

Pragmatists take in the experiences from the external environment and process them by testing them out in an active fashion. They are characterized as practical, common sense types.

Activists are intimately tied to their senses and sensory experiences. They process what they see, hear, touch, and feel. They are characterized as dynamic, intuitive types (Kolb cited in Leonard, 2002 at p. 69).

As Sims and Sims advise in his book Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Kolb (1984) described an experiential learning model (ELM) which is a framework for understanding ways in which the learning process and individual learning styles can affect learning: "Thus, the effective management of the learning process by faculties in institutions of higher education requires that they create environments that facilitate a productive learning climate" (Kolb, p. 2). According to Kolb, an individual's learning style also develops as a consequence of heredity factors, previous learning experiences, and the demands of the present environment. In this regard, Kolb suggests that learning to value differences and to be receptive to diversity pose difficult educational challenges, including the following:

Diversity education requires not only acquisition of knowledge but also attitude change, appreciation of multiple perspectives, and willingness to bring about change. It must address emotional, perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral issues. The definition of prejudice, for example, includes not only ignorance of those who are different but also an emotional investment in maintaining that ignorance.

Resources of diversity education must be organized to be maximally responsive to what each learner wants to learn and the manner in which that learning is to be achieved. An African-American female may enter a diversity class seeking to understand the institutions of racism and sexism, a goal that may require her to read related concepts and theories. A white male, on the other hand, who wants to learn what it means to himself and others that he is white male, might engage in self-reflection and dialogue with his classroom peers. Such individualized learning sometimes comes into conflict with the democratic value of equality in education when individualized learning is interpreted as proposing a politics of difference, and equality is perceived as espousing a politics of sameness.

Perhaps, because diversity education addresses core feelings and values, it requires a climate of psychological safety and trust. Learners must feel empowered and in control of their own learning. When learners feel threatened, they adopt defensive and conformist postures. Teaching, then, is experienced as coercive and manipulative, and learning becomes secondary (Kolb).

Theories of experiential learning provide educational strategies for responding to the challenges of diversity education.

Experiential learning theory (ELT) describes learning as the holistic engagement of affective, perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral processes (Kolb). Learning results from the interplay of these processes, which are positioned along two primary dimensions of knowledge. Prehension, knowing by taking in data, involves the affect of concrete experience and cognition of abstract conceptualization. Transformation, knowing through modification of data, requires perception in reflective observation and behavior in active experimentation. ELT is an inclusive paradigm that allows for a range of responses to the learning requirements of diversity education (Kolb).

ELT in the concept of learning style offers a perspective for addressing the dilemma between equality in education and individualized learning. Learners are each unique in the way they learn and equal in their contribution to a larger holistic learning cycle that values, acknowledges, and includes all ways of knowing. There is no one best way to learn. The assumption is equal worth in all ways of knowing. ELT also provides guidelines for creating learning environments that address the special learning needs of each learning style (Kolb).

ELT proposes that the foundation of learning resides not in schools, books, or even teachers; rather, it rests in the experience of the learner. This democratic approach to education emphasizes self-directed learning and the role dialogue plays in the creation of a psychologically safe climate of learning (Kolb cited in Sims & Sims at pp. 129-130).

In more recent works, Kolb has extended his perspectives on experiential learning and learning styles to organizational behavior and organization learning; for example, his text, Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach, published in 2000, describes group learning exercises and problem-solving situations and simulations to promote experiential learning for the various types of learning styles of employee audiences he addresses (cited in Sims & Sims). The goals of these new efforts are to have employees learn specific, new work-related content and through the experience to learn more about oneself, one's learning style, as well as their learning strengths and weaknesses. These are clearly laudable goals in any adult education setting, but as…

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Atkinson, R.D. (2006, May-June). Building a more-humane economy. The Futurist, 40(3), 44.

Blanchard, E. & Frasson, C. (2005). Making intelligent tutoring systems culturally aware: The use of Hofstede's cultural dimensions. Montreal, Quebec Canada: Computer Science Department, HERON Laboratory.

Bryant, S.M., Kahle, J.B. & Schafer, B.A. (2005). Distance education: A review of the contemporary literature. Issues in Accounting Education, 20(3), 255.

Calder, J. (1993). Disaffection and diversity: Overcoming barriers for adult learners. London: Falmer Press.

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