The application of the principles of adult learning

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The only kind of learning which significantly influences behaviour is self-discovered or self-appropriated learning truth that has been assimilated in experience Carl Rogers.

The aim of this essay is to explore three of the main principles of teaching adults and to apply them to a learning group, in this case, teaching general Art and Design to post compulsory education learners in a sixth form college.

The following principles are discussed:

1. Learning should take account of individual differences in learners capacities and styles and be self paced

2. Precise learning goals and objectives should be specified in advance

3. The learner must practise what she/he has learned.

1. Learning should take account of individual differences in learners capacities and styles and be self paced

In general, adult learners are self directed, experienced and have a desire to develop skills. All students are different though, and the teacher needs to take account of this by understanding their needs and working with them to achieve their own learning goals, rather than telling them what to learn and how to learn it.

Lumby states that "the desire to meet the full range of student needs means that the curriculum grows organically by responding to the community" (Lumby, 2001 p115). In order to facilitate response, it is important that the teacher helps the students identify their own learning need. The teacher can begin by outlining what is required to achieve the desired outcomes but the learners must be given the experience of making their own choices.

A teacher centred method could be followed where there is a preference for speed of learning rather than depth of learning, whereby students are passively lectured to, however, "the learners may listen but in listening they may not learn what the teacher intends" (Rogers, 2002 p222). A more suitable approach, particularly in regards to the subject of Art, is an interactive method where the learner is involved in the planning of his or her own learning. Whilst the teacher should provide clear instructions and guidance, the learner should also be encouraged to take ownership and be in control of the learning, participating, and making it an empowering experience.

Art should be about experimenting and exploring. To begin with, the teacher should suggest fun, easy art projects where the learner will see results. This will help the adult to become less self conscious about their art and encourage them, in their own time, to try more complex techniques without fear of failure. Art should be taught as a gradual process, adapted to a student's capabilities and confidence.

The teacher should draw on the learner's prior knowledge and experience and not just dictate the subject; Fairclough expresses that "the subject being taught should never take priority over the learners" (Fairclough 2008 p4). Teaching adults in less formal, relaxed ways and encouraging the class to talk and break the ice by using group work and discussion helps students to relax and enjoy themselves. This will provide an innovative approach, which will improve flexibility and make lessons more interesting and less rigid. Students can often learn just as much from each other as the teacher. This will help foster a feeling of inclusiveness within the group whereby students who are less confident can seek support from others that are more advanced.

It is valuable for the teacher to learn about the students on the first day so that there is an understanding of their skills and interests in art, and what experience they have. These details will help to understand their learning strengths and weaknesses, enabling the teacher to adapt to their needs. Each learner will have different approaches to learning so it is important to understand the student and tailor ways of conducting individual feedback, which encourages learning and also enables the student to feel positive about their progress.

2. Precise learning goals and objectives should be specified in advance.

It is of the imperative that goals and objectives are stated in advance as they ensure understanding of the learning process, offer motivation and provide a framework for evaluation by the teacher and learner; "If goals are left vague, neither party is sure if they are achieving anything or not" (Rogers, 2002 p146).

All lessons must have aims and objectives and the teacher must explain them clearly in order to get a successful learning outcome. This is important in learning because it provides structure and enables both the teacher and student to plan and prepare in advance to ensure meaningful lessons.

Aims describe the overall intention of the lesson, and provide a plan to illustrate direction. The aims should be brief and should be stated simply and concisely to summarise the proposed outcome.

Objectives define the knowledge and skills that students should have developed by the end of the lesson. Objectives should consider performance, conditions and criteria. Objectives describe the learning that you wish to take place. They are more specific than aims and will explain, in more detail what the student will learn during the lesson. They will tell you whether the work will be done individually, in pairs, or in groups, over what time period and what resources will be used. Aims and objectives help both the learners and the teacher evaluate the work that has taken place during the lesson and whether the learning outcomes have been achieved.

Art lessons should be fun. Most people think they have accomplished something when they learn a new skill. It is important that the student finishes the lesson knowing that they have learnt at least one thing. This could be anything such as sketching or basic colour theory.

Aims and objectives can help to identify what areas may need more improvement. By evaluating the aims and objectives adult learners can work on the areas that need development.

3. The learner must practise what he/she has learned

Art is a practical subject and some students will have greater capabilities than others, however, most will need to practise hard to improve their skills. In 1984 David Kolb explored the theory of the significance of experience in learning. He stressed that 'Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience' (Light, G., Cox, R., & Calkins, S. 2009 p55).

The teaching environment involves more than just providing knowledge and skills. The student must want to learn, want to use their abilities and actually do so. They must want to develop as a person. To do this the learner must practise what they have learned and this need to practice applies to both the student and the teacher.

At the beginning of each lesson it is valuable that the teacher recaps the learning outcomes from the last lesson. The student should be able to build on the previous week's techniques and skills learnt. In the case of a complex or difficult task, the teacher might initially want to give specific warm up exercises to practise using the skills. During the lesson, it might be suitable for the teacher to continue practising their own skills and working on his or her own piece of artwork at the same time as the students. The more the student practises, the more developed the work will become.

The teacher should give positive feedback and support during the lesson. Art shouldn't be a competitive subject and there is no right or wrong. Art is about the creative process and not the final product. The students should recognise that the more they practise their art, the more focused they will become. In time, with practice, their skills will develop and their confidence will improve.

Art should be taught from different perspectives to help students relate to it better. The teacher should find out what learners are interested in and use that as a way to increase their interest in art. Some tasks require repetition and it is important that they approach to practise remains flexible to change the programme to keep students motivated and enthusiastic.

Conclusion

Adults need to know why they are learning, what the benefits of learning it are and what they risk by not learning it. Adults need to take control of their learning. Learning needs to draw upon the learner's own experience. It needs to be timely and relevant and focus on what is useful in their situations.

Adult learning is life centred and focuses on tasks and problems rather than on subjects. They must have motivation to learn. This may be extrinsic but is more likely to be intrinsic.

Adult learning is emphasised through life and experience. An experience that results in changed behaviour. Ultimately, adults learn best by doing.

Teachers must focus on assessing individual learning styles, motivation, past experiences and the student's willingness to apply the learning. A joint effort between teacher and learner will achieve the most success and benefit everyone involved in the activity.

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