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A changing composition of the adult student body has brought diversity to the forefront and if an institution is to embrace diversity, change must occur through the process of researching, understanding, and implementation. Learning is an integrated experience, in which a change in behavior, knowledge, or understanding incorporated into the person's existing repertoire of behavior and schema (Huitt, 2007).
According to the U.S. Department of Interior (2005), diversity is a variety of demographic variables that include race, religion, color, gender, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, education, geographic origin, and skill characteristics, to name a few. Diversity represents an understanding of differences in promoting a safe, positive, and nurturing environment (U.S. Department of Interior, 2005). The diversity mindset relies on the ethical commitment needed to make the appropriate choices for the right reasons (Zepke, 2005). This mindset is an attitudinal state achieved through lifelong learning, personal investment, and self-improvement (Siccone, 1995). Learning is an integrative experience, in which a change in behavior, knowledge, or understanding incorporated into the person's existing repertoire of behavior and schema (Huitt, 2007).
Organizations and educators are utilizing new teaching styles to prepare students for an increasingly complex, diverse communities, and workforce (Zepke, 2005). Organizations are changing their curricula because recognizing knowledge about diversity of history and culture are essential for today's students (Billings & Halstead, 2009). Adult learning theory refers to a collection of concepts and theories that describe how adults learn. Adult learning theories attempt to explain and provide guidance for change in adult learning, processing of information, and behavior modification (Billings & Halstead, 2009). The adult learning theories have agreed and disagreed on various methodologies and processes how adults comprehend new information. Each concept attempts to evolve with complexities of diverse student body and learning environment.
Learning theories focus on and describe the processes necessary to assist the student to understand and organize elements in his or her environment. (Billings & Halstead, 2009). 'Psychologists have developed two principle types of learning theory- behavioral and cognitive, to explain how people learn.' (Billings & Halstead, 2009 p. 193). 'There is no single behavioral, cognitive, cognitive development, adult education, or humanistic theory; variations exist for each type of theory.' (Billings & Halstead, 2009, p. 193).
Andragogy, Transformational Learning, and Cognitive Development Theory represent three theories researched to enhance understanding adult student learning. Understanding and application of the concepts presented within the theories may create positive adult learning skills resulting in academic achievement, motivation, and commitment to the organization.
Andragogy describes the adult learner as growth-oriented, open, and autonomous in their learning (Knowles, 1984). The approach encourages educators to avert from instrumental approaches in the direction of a humanist understanding. The five points of andragogy included:
1. Educator responsibility assisting adult learners strive from dependency learning toward self-directedness learning.
2. Adults have previous experiences to aid in learning.
3. Learners comprehend differences and understanding of their environments.
4. Learners' self-esteem increases.
5. Learners become motivated to learn and expand their knowledge base.
Andragogy theory consists of purpose, application, and evaluation of adult learning. The theory suggests curriculum designers "should involve learners in as many aspects of their education as possible and in the creation of a climate in which they can most fruitfully learn" (Merriam, 2004, p.7). The involvement of the educator and student will determine the success or failure of the combined efforts in curriculum changes such as:
1. Adult students have life experiences presenting a resource of knowledge to the educator.
2. Influence and motivation can lead adult students to self-directed learning information important to their education.
3. Comprehension of how the learning applies to real-world applications.
4. Adult students understand expectations and evaluation of the information.
5. Adult students buy into the concept of ownership for his or her education and provide feedback.
Knowles (1984) envisioned andragogy going beyond the need to identify the differences in adult learning styles. Knowles (1984) believed culture influences the learning styles because variations among learners' life style. "Researchers have clearly established that there is no single or dual learning style for the members of any cultural, national, racial, or religious group" (Dunn, 1997, pp. 74- 75). Knowles envisioned andragogy going beyond identifying the differences in adult learning styles. Knowles stated culture influences the learning styles due to variations among learners' lifestyle.
Bulger and Watson (2006) provided a review of various research studies investigating problems experienced by adult students. The results of the review indicate trends of negative student feedback and the lack of student accountability occur from imposed curriculum. The imposition of curriculum jeopardizes academic planning process and student retention (Bulger & Watson, 2006). Universities and instructors should provide appropriate structure, methodology, and communications to encompass all students to excel in the learning environment.
Mezirow's Transformative Theory discusses the process in which students learn and apply life experiences to the knowledge. The transformational learning discusses how instructors should concentrate on diagnosing the needs and capabilities of their students. Instructors identifying students' needs should coach, advice, and provide feedback aiding the students (Cranton, 2006). Acknowledging student needs will assist in building confidence levels of the students to take on greater levels of accountability. Student accountability does not apply specifically to individual academic goals nor increasing student performance. Students accepting more responsibility and accountability may apply to personal and professional goals. The development of transformation occurs when the reflection leads to awareness in a previously held misconception or perspective, reevaluate, and revised the viewpoints (Cranton, 2006).
Research conducted by Duarte and Snyder (2001) indicated student success requires communication, collaboration, and understanding. Communication between the educator and adult student can create an ownership and motivation for academic achievement. The transformations of individuals 'reinterpret an old experience (or a new one) from a new set of expectations, thus giving new meaning and perspective to an old experience' (Mezirow, 1991, p. 11). Mezirow describes, 'Learning that transforms problematic frames of reference'sets of fixed assumptions and expectations (habits of mind, meaning perspectives, mindsets)'to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective, and emotionally able to change,' (2003, p. 58).
The process allows the student to release prior viewpoints and allows for re-forming of new ideas. Mezirow speaks of critical dialogue as necessary to test 'the validity of a transformed frame of reference,' (2003, p. 61). Baumgartner cites Taylor as saying 'without the expression and recognition of feelings participants will not'begin critical reflection,' (2001, p. 18). The goal of transformational learning is to develop student's awareness to an enlighten perspective. However, Mezirow (2000) stated not everyone is capable to participate in rational dialogue.
Cognitive Learning Theory
Cognitive learning involves a learning process and formation of mental associations not reflected in overt behavior changes. The components for the cognitive therapy consist of education, identification, and challenging dysfunctional schemata. The knowledge is processed and organization will occur in relationship of new information to previously information. The cognitive learning theory suggests cognitive processes influence learning and students control their own learning (Blanton, 2007).
Cognitive theory will use one of two broad approaches: 1) the developmental approach, 2) the information-processing approach. The concepts of the theoretical approach are Schemas, Assimilation, Accommodation, and Equilibration. The theory proposed four stages of mental representation children pass on to adult level of intelligence. Piaget proposed that children's thinking does not develop smoothly; there are certain points at which development moves into new areas and capabilities (Taylor, 2006). Cognitive development theories defined 'on the belief human development progresses smoothly and gradually from infancy to adulthood,' (Slavin, 2006, p. 31). Cognitive learning involves a learning process and formation of mental associations not displayed in evident demeanor alterations.
Jean Piaget made theoretical and practical contributions to understanding of the origins and evolution of knowledge. Piaget identified stages of mental growth by theorizing all children progressed through stages of cognitive development. According to Piaget, cognitive development is an ongoing challenge to achieve a balance between assimilation and accommodation resulting in equilibration. Piaget believed everyone passed through a sequence of four qualitatively distinct stages. The basis of theory states cognitive development occurs in a series of four distinct stages:
1. Sensorimotor ' Information gained in at infancy through sensory impressions and motor activity.
2. Preoperational ' Intelligence displayed via the use of symbols, memory, and imagination
3. Concrete operations ' Realization others have dissimilar views and thoughts
4. Formal operations ' Abstract concepts and moral values are important as concrete items
Piaget incorporated diverse topics as language, logical reasoning, moral judgments, and the process of conceiving an idea of time, space, and number. Piaget's research suggested adults are active processors of information, cognitive development results from the interactions children have with their physical and social environments.
Vygotsky explained the field of cognitivism as a complex mental process beginning with social activities. Unlike Piaget's development stages, Vygotsky learning does not cease at specific points but a progressive style of learning. Vygotsky's theory focused on how the environment's role of individual development. According to Vygotsky, individual development is social occurrence through society, culture, or environment. Vygotsky believed adults have the responsibility to share collective knowledge with the younger generations. While Vygotsky was critical of Piaget, realized the importance of the Piaget's information and built his educational theories on the strengths of Piaget's theories. Vygotsky's theories on cognitive development appear more in line with the two previous theories. Adults are able to continue to learn and build upon prior knowledge.
Both theorists agreed a child must labor through a series of steps in order to gain knowledge into adulthood.' Piaget stated, 'Cognitive development was a progressive reorganization of mental processes''' (McCloud, 2007, p 7)' Vygotsky claimed, 'Infants are born with the basic materials/abilities for intellectual development' (and) are curious and actively involved in their own learning''' (McCloud, 2007, p 13).
Webb (2007) was critical of the existing concepts of the Cognitive Learning Theory. The main concept involved a dual-store model of memory and new information, which at any given moment acquired. The information could move from the working memory to long-term memory. Assuming adequate acuity, attention referred to the process of information moved into working memory.
Wertheimer, Kohler, and Koffka stressed the significance of organizational processes in perception, learning, and problem solving (Boeree, 2000). The theory suggested individuals organize information in unique fashion illustrating different perspectives in obtaining information. Several basic ideas of the Gestalt Theory (2000) include perception is different from reality, the organism structures and organizes experience, and problem solving involves restructuring and insight. The cognitive learning theory suggests general educational implications occur in the learning process. Cognitive theorists believe learning is influenced by the cognitive process.
1. Children develop sophisticated thought with growth.
2. Adults processed new information with association to previous information.
3. Adults dictate their learning (Blanton 2007).
The cognitive thought process illustrates a dependency on cognitive accuracy including accurate information, thought process accuracy, and time-space continuum accuracy (Bailey, 2006). In evaluation of the cognitive behavioral assumptions, the consequences are:
1. The identification of the desired forces in the environment;
2. Combination or interaction determine the applied behaviors; and
3. The assumption that people make choices about alternative courses of action
Comprehension of this concept related to studies showing most people contend to think accurately, rationally, and logically (ACE, 2003). However, in Bailey's article (2003), the findings were based their contentions on inaccurate and an irrational frame of reference. There have been researches conducted to ascertain causes but remain unanswered.
Applying the cognitive theory to education, the processes involves in learning and instruction. This approach called reciprocal teaching has similarity to instructional design. Instructional design and reciprocal teaching involves the comprehension of new information. The instructional design begins with educational goals including the student analysis, culture, and subject matter. Goal formulation involves established objectives containing terminal behaviors, surroundings, and values. Observation of the terminal behavior should identify behavioral changes over a timeframe without unexpected challenges or problems. The goals involved the needs of the student, culture, academic current and future goals.
The learning theories identify the need to employ various methods to promote student success, accomplishment, and diversity. The concepts aid in understanding and creating a successful learning environments. Critics argue about the concepts of each theory and the ability to promote learning. Every theory has advantages, disadvantages, and requires initial preparation. Instructors identifying students' needs should coach, advice, and provide feedback aiding the students. Acknowledging student needs will assist in building confidence levels of the students to take on greater levels of accountability. Student accountability does not apply specifically to individual academic goals nor increasing student performance. Students accepting more responsibility and accountability may apply to personal and professional goals.
Merriam highlights the various viewpoints overlooked, which consideration is needed in adult learning and the goals of transformative learning. The theory generalizes concepts of self-directed learning as Merriam had stated as a board concept. The theory eludes variables such as learning contexts, students, and educators. These variables need to be addressed in creating an enhanced learning environment.
Adults develop a need to of taking responsibility for learning becoming self-directed. All three learning theories agree life experiences are the foundation adults acquire new information. Collaboration of the learning theories put the student in charge of what is important and achieve his or her desired goals. The three selected adult learning theories can agree adults learners need to be responsible and active participants in obtaining his or her education. Incorporating theory to a learning environment, the following questions need answered:
1. What is the desired change to occur within the learning environment?
2. How does the change benefit the organization?
3. Achieving the intended goal of meeting the needs of the students, will the change promote student-learning styles, present the information professionally, and improve the learning experience? (Gutek, 2004)
Adult students seeking higher education have different traits such as age, abilities, job experiences, cultural backgrounds, and personal goals. Adult learning theories apply new knowledge and information to previously learned information and experiences. Adults will proceed in the learning process when the goals and objectives are practical and significant as discussed in transformative learning theory and cognitive development. '
Adults pursue their learning in a self-directed fashion but resist learning activities believed impertinent to their experience. While adult students portrayed by his or her own need to know, the students may be incapable to make a distinction between learning required or needed. Educators creating a positive learning experience will assist adult students in committing learning objectives and goals. The assistance in learning will promote student commitment and realistic approach.
As mentioned earlier, adults learn from experiences, knowledge, self-direction, interest, and competencies. The adult learning theories can agree adults learners need to be responsible and active participants in obtaining his or her education. Every adult brings into the learning environment experiences and perspectives. Most of the students become motivated when they can apply the knowledge to real-world situations, whether in their personal lives or professional occupations. Each adult has his or her own methodology to learning as well as varying abilities and aptitudes. Educators must provide scenarios for adults to apply information already know and apply what they are learning in the learning environment.
Designing an effective curriculum, the instructor wears numerous hats in the learning environment such as the role a facilitator, student, and administrator. The role has changed from instructor to facilitator with the purpose to encourage adult students to participate in curriculum design, evaluation of approaches, and providing guidance. A successful education is a product of positive techniques and availability matched with motivation. Laffey, Lin, and Lin (2006) list several foundational elements to successful learning environment including motivating the students. Motivation refers to the importance of how people communicate online, participate with others, and complete the requirements of the course. Motivation will assist in developing other foundational elements such as honesty, responsiveness, and respect (Laffey, Lin, & Lin, 2006).
Education is described as one of the key ingredients in creating successful career and lifestyle. Conducting effective practice, the learning experience is evaluated, revised, and modified to reduce the likelihood of student dropout. The expectations intended to assist in understanding the needs of adult learners in the learning environment. The articles of research have agreed or disagreed on different methodologies, but each provided evolving complexities of the learning environment.
Motivation is significant because of its implication as a determinant of performance and its insubstantial nature. Most of the research had been implying, as a major foundational element was behavior modification. Using behavior modification motivates students towards goals of the course. The role of the instructor becomes a facilitator of learning, and a catalyst for students to integrate learning with new, theoretical, and conceptual learning (Duarte & Snyder, 2001, p. 75). The educator should prepare and manage the course by establishing the agenda for the classes and discussions.
An ongoing line of communication with students can promote understanding and enhancing the online learning environment. These factors can build the students' self-confidence and motivation promoting a positive learning experience. The consequences of the lack of training may in students falling behind, missing deadlines, or even failure of completing the assignment (Bulger, 2006). Educators should try various teaching methods to assist the student in success and self-esteem.
Every adult brings into the learning environment experiences and perspectives. Most of the students become motivated when he or she can apply the knowledge to real-world situations, whether in their personal lives or professional occupations. Each adult has his or her own methodology to learning as well as varying abilities and aptitudes. Educators must provide scenarios for adults to apply information already know and apply what they are learning in the learning environment.