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In the past, adults wanting to pursue a higher education had to overcome different barriers or forfeit the pursuit. Technology has enabled individuals to pursue their education eliminating the need to meet schedules of the institution. While technology has enabled adults to find a way to pursue a higher education, some potential barriers still exist such as other responsibilities, family commitments, finances, and/or low self-confidence.
The challenge for organizations, faculty, and advisors requires the ability to recognize and determine challenges and issues affecting the students. Adult students may be aware of their need to know, others may be unable to distinguish between knowledge preferred and required. Students displaying a lack of confidence or esteem issues can be the result of previously negative experiences. These adults may have the desire to obtain a higher education but require universities and advisors to provide appropriate structure, methodology, and communications to assist the adults to transform into the learning environment.
Determining the concept or theory promoting a positive learning experience for students depends on various factors. Learning theories are concepts describing the adult learning process this includes the processing of information. Some of the theories discuss changes in behavior and attitude along with manage new information. Some of the learning theories come from two different disciplines. The disciplines of psychology and adult education have been responsible for theories such as transformational theory.
Transformative Learning Theory
Mezirow's Transformative Theory discusses the process in which students learn and apply life experiences to the knowledge. The transformation theory has two different approaches to learning:
1. Instrumental learning ' Controlling and manipulating the learning environment
2. Communicative learning ' Understanding what another individual communicates to another individual
Transformation theory has similarities with other theories such as experiential learning and andragogy. The fundamental elements of Mezirow' theory included:
1. Analysis ' Identify the problem
Mezirow stated adults learn through reflection and interpretation of new experiences.
2. Interpretation ' Determine the credibility
Critics believed this theory as it was too narrow-minded on the individual and not the other factors, which dictate on whether or not transformation could be possible. (Merriam, 2004) The theory eludes variables such as learning contexts, students, and educators.
3. Self-regulation ' Comprehension and Maintain Open Mind
Mezirow's theory uses the "disorientating dilemma" to critically reflect and interpretations of new experience.
4. Inference ' Merriam argued the change in the adult learning processed resulted from a level of development and cognitive development (Merriam, 2004)
5. Explanation ' Establish the reliability of interpretations
6. Evaluation ' Providing a significant or boarder picture of the situation/problem
Reviewing the adult learning process and the relationship to adult behavioral performance and change is a critical theme for both scholars and practitioners.
Mezirow'stated, 'Reflection involves a critique of assumptions to determine whether the belief, often acquired through cultural assimilation in childhood, remains functional for us as adults' (Mezirow, 1991). Mezirow states problem-solving process occurs through the process of reflection 'reflect'on the content of the problem, the'process'of problem-solving, or the'premise'of the problem' (Mezirow, 1991). Mezirow recognizes three types of reflection in the transformation process:
1. Content Reflection: Individuals reflect on problem by the subject matter or explanation.
2. Process Reflection: Involves strategies to solve the problem rather than the content of the problem.
3. Premise Reflection: Questions the significance of the problem by the following:
The development of transformation occurs when the reflection leads to awareness in a previously held misconception or perspective, reevaluate, and revised the viewpoints (Cranton, 1994).
Review of Literature
Cranton (1994) stated, "Transformative learning theory leads us to view learning as a process of becoming aware of one's assumptions and revising these assumptions" (p. 730). Cranton (1994) describes, "If basic assumptions are not challenged, change will not take place" (p. 739), and explains instructors are possibility of having preconceived assumptions guiding teaching practices. Sokol and Cranton (1998) stated, "As transformative learners, they question their perspectives, open up new ways of looking at their practice, revise their views, and act based on new perspectives" (p. 14). Mezirow (1997) warns, "Learners need practice in recognizing frames of reference and using their imaginations to redefine problems from a different perspective" (p. 10).
Laffey, Lin, & Lin (2006) list several foundational elements to successful learning environment including motivating the students. Motivation will assist development of other foundational elements such as honesty, responsiveness and respect (Laffey, Lin, & Lin, 2006). Achieving success relies on each element establishing the foundation for a successful learning environment.
Students need motivation, a reason to change. If they see nothing wrong with the status quo, they will be less receptive to the idea of change and perhaps fearful of what is to come. If the students challenge previously held beliefs by expanding their knowledge base with new information, this is the transformation to becoming a critical thinker (Brookfield, 2005). Tucker (2005) stated evaluations conducted on potential students and students with special needs to determine their needs in pursuit of a higher education promoting academic success.
Wadsworth,'Husman,'Duggan,'Pennington'(2007) study evaluated the needs of the students whether to the student's advantage or disadvantage. The researchers indicated determining the needs of the students can be distinguish (Wadsworth, 2007). Duarte and Snyder (2001) study experienced the similar success and failure when attempting to establish the needs of the students. The findings stated meeting the needs of students requires communication, collaboration, and understanding need in a positive learning environment.
The lack of interaction can have negative impacts within the learning environment such as the loss of student interest and motivation. Learning and teaching styles need to develop and maintain motivation and communication within the learning environment. Adult students acquire certain perspectives from education and life experiences to determine if an instructor is approachable. Mezirow describes this viewpoint as 'structures of assumptions,' relating to past experiences. The previous experiences serve as a learning element students will apply to future experiences or scenarios (Mezirow, 1994).
Alan Roper emphasized the importance training needed for instructors in identifying and providing assistance to the students and their needs to be successful. Bulger and Watson (2006) supported Roper's research (2006) indicating the need for training to support student issues. Connection between training and changes can assist in minimizing and/or eliminating challenges or issues found within the learning environment. Some students resist learning if the information contradicts personal beliefs, prejudices, and assumptions (Mezirow, 1994). The instructor's challenge is promoting a proactive approach guiding and motivating students to new information.
Motivation is endeavor for instructors to challenge and encourage students in a learning environment. Different methods of motivation will be required for each student because of the unique personalities. Student academic success may be accomplished by the assistance of a qualified instructor. Ineffective practice of the instructor can jeopardize the learning environment and promote a negative learning experience for the adult students. The instructor establishes the stage for transformative learning by serving as a role model. The instructor demonstrates a willingness to learn and change by expanding and deepening understanding and perspectives of curriculum and learning styles (Cranton 1994).
The influx of diverse cultures in America has meant an influx of diversity at colleges and universities. Transforming the learning environment requires a diversified mindset. The managing diversity mindset functions as an internal regulator that keeps our beliefs and actions consistent (Loden, 1996). Promoting a positive learning environment requires a diversity mindset making the ethical commitment needed to make the appropriate choices and take appropriate actions for the right reasons (Loden, 1996). This mindset is an attitudinal state achieved through lifelong learning, personal investment, and continuous self-improvement (Loden, 2006).
A managing diversity mindset cannot be mimicked, it has to be learned by each individual (Loden, 1996). Loden (1996) points out four basic beliefs that form the foundation for this mindset:
1. Valuing diversity requires long-term culture change
2. Valuing diversity is beneficial for organizations and students.
3. Valuing diversity realization must be comprehensive, not limited.
4. Valuing diversity benefits all and sundry (p. 64)
Understanding these beliefs is fundamental in gaining a diversity mindset. Managing diversity in the learning environment challenges the attitudes and assumptions that have been the basis for a society's culture for many years if not decades (Loden, 1996). Due to these factors, diversity can be a source of discomfort for many individuals when first introduced. Diversity is not just the responsibility of the instructor to embrace and implement, diversity is the responsibility all stakeholders (Thomas & Woodruff, 1999). If diversity is to thrive within the learning environment, all stakeholders must embrace diversity top down (Thomas & Woodruff, 1999). To start a change process, instructors have to start with themselves (Thomas, 1991). Components of the change agent require clarity of motivation, concepts, consistency, emphasize education, and student involvement.
Diversity emphasizes inclusion and mutual respect giving hope to students who may have felt marginalized or excluded. Diversity can influence motivation and innovation meeting the universal need for inclusion and respect among students and instructors, which improves productivity, satisfaction, and academic growth. Graham (2006) states, 'Organizations with constructive diversity cultures realize much higher levels of motivation, teamwork, satisfaction, quality, and student growth.'
Accountability supplies instructors with the information required to create and monitor student performance. The instructor can oversee influence on the student learning skills realizing the goal of transitional learning to become self-directed. The student should be shown how to take accountability for their learning, resources, goals, and evaluation (DiBiase, 1998).
The transformational learning focuses around the fact instructors should concentrate on diagnosing the needs and capabilities of their students. The instructors diagnose students' needs and attend to them individually. In order for transformation to occur for a student is not unachievable, instructors should create an environment of collaboration and communication. Instructors should create an environment stimulating the student's ability to rationalize and contemplate their development for perceptions and viewpoints of their own principles.
Communication and trust between the instructor and student can promote an environment of trust, openness, and positive learning environment. This collaboration presents an exchange of information back and for the between the instructors and the students. Baumgartner stated, 'transformational learning is not an independent act but is an interdependent relationship built on trust (2001)." Mezirow stated, 'Transformative learning addresses'direct intervention' (2003 p. 62) by the instructor. Enhancing communication between students and instructor requires a written communication plan promoting a positive learning environment.
1. Communication occurs through speech, writing, training, Internet, and various other forms
2. Communicate changes, as swiftly as possible
3. Provide time for questions and answer sessions
4. Communicate the expectations and the objectives
5. Communication is a two-way conversation between instructor and students
6. Communication should be practical and positive.
Instructors will coach, advise, and provide feedback for use in the academic development of the students. Instructors will raise the needs and confidence levels of the students to take on increased accountability. The student's responsibility does not simply cover their educational goals but to increase student performance. Students are taking greater responsibility for their academic development will apply to personal situations. The primary apprehension with positive reinforcement should be applied constantly and carefully. Thus, the instructor must maintain frequent communication with the students.
Communication is vital in any environment to accomplish tasks and objectives. Lamb and Johnson stated a successful learning environment consists of communication between instructors and students (Lamb, 2008). The interaction between the instructor and student builds the relationship and trust need in promoting the learning environment. Prompting communication within the classroom to promote instructor/student interaction can include:
1. Asking questions to acquire student thoughts and understanding;
2. Instructor provides personal experiences;
3. Participate in discussions, reading, and explain insights on topics;
4. Provide examples and explain how course concepts applied to personal or professional life.
The lack of planning and managing a diverse student body can be a challenge for any instructor if there is a lack of understanding of varied circumstances and experiences. Today's society organizations and educators have an obligation the stakeholders, community, and students to understand the needs of the students. Organizations and instructors can use the four layers of diversity tool to lead to an understanding of the students. The four layers of diversity tool consist of the following:
1. Personality: Uniqueness
2. Internal dimension: Age, gender, and ethnic group
3. External component: Geographical location, monetary issues, theology, education, employment, and marital status
4. Organizational dimension: Curriculum, location, background
Each element has distinctiveness to aid in recognizing individuals in an assortment of ethnicities (Johnson, 2003).
Achieving accomplishment or failure is dependent upon the combined efforts of the instructors and students. Developing trust is critical activity in the interaction between the instructor and student relationship. The ability of the instructor to identify the needs of the students may depend on their ability to adapt to changes within the learning environment (Roper, 2007). The consequences of the lack of training may in students falling behind, missing deadlines, or even failure of completing the assignment (Bulger, 2006). Organizations, curriculum designers, and educators will need to focus on thought out decisions, thereby achieving student needs and course expectations.
Curriculum planning can cause the success or failure of the efforts of the instructors and students in achieving success in the learning environment. Bishop (2006) investigated problems related to student accountability and challenges reducing student failure. Imposing curriculum components without incorporating planning can jeopardize academic planning and student retention (Bishop, 2006). Problems and challenges identified in a structured planning process can be resolved prior to curriculum changes occur.
Proper planning implements good decision-making and prevent possible failure after implementation. Planning determines expectations and establishing clear objectives providing clarification to the students. The objectives are action items to assist in determining the intended goals to be accomplished within the decision making process. Charting possible outcomes and resolutions in the planning stage will assist in meeting desired outcomes and objectives. Recommended methodologies for achieving objectives:
1. Advising Methods ' Student evaluation, goal assessments, and student advising
2. Best Practices ' Ideas and changes recommended for implementation
3. Professional development ' Instructor training
4. Specialized training 'Specific needs needed for successful learning (2006)
If effective practices are not evaluated, revised, and modified could jeopardize student success. If the students lack proper direction, this can lead to students developing their own ineffective techniques. If the instructor is under qualified to assist students, the lack of qualifications will create further frustration and difficulties for the students. If qualified instructors successfully address issues affecting students, this action can promote motivation, interest, and self-direction. Effective behavior modification tactics can reinforce wanted behaviors and remove unwanted behaviors by communication. Facilitating positive learning skills will promote positive behaviors and accountability by students. If the students maintain responsibility for their education such as maintaining motivation and positive attitude promotes a positive learning environment.
The expectations intended to assist in understanding the needs of adult learners in the learning environment. The educators need to adjust their behavior and approach to the learning environment. 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). Instructors should foster the growth of the learners' ability for identify and question previously held beliefs and opinions. Baumgartner stated, 'Transformational learning is not an independent act but is an interdependent relationship built on trust (2001). Mezirow states 'Transformative learning addresses'direct intervention' by the facilitator (2003, p. 62).
Effective adult learners must be able to think critically, self-direct their learning, motivated, and learn from mistakes. The path for students to become critical thinkers involves:
1. Validation of the information ' Understanding if the information offsets the cost and if the information has real-life application.
2. Develop self-direction to learning - Adults take responsibility for learning.
3. Utilize background of experience as a resource ' Using background information as a foundation for application of new information.
4. Motivation ' Adults learn by extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. When adults accept and desire learning new material, apply to life situations. The need to learn must occur prior to application to take place.
5. Goals ' Adults begin the learning experience achieve specific goals.
The research conducted implies motivation is significant because of its implication as a determinant of performance and its insubstantial nature. Motivation can inspire students to improve, increase, and achieve academic goals (Wadsworth, 2007). When motivated, students display positive behavioral traits in the course and outlook. Alderfer's theory implies motivation will compel a student to produce resourceful or constructive actions on personally and the learning environment (Huitt, 2004).
Instructors modeling effective teaching accept the responsibility of keeping discussions on track; contribute experiences, knowledge, and insights. The creation of a learning environment transformed in creating a self-directed course does not occur overnight but requires time, cooperation, and support. When students are conscious of instructor's authentic interest in them, they will act in response in kind. In this type of surroundings, students assist in making suggestions and decision making in their education.
Instructors need to display patience and understanding with students in the learning environment. If instructors reminisce about their own journey to obtain an education, they demonstrate an understanding to their student's journey'in achieving their goals in education. The construction an enhanced learning environment should be the intention every instructor should strive to attain. Promoting and articulating course goals, educators need to encourage students to assume responsibility of their education. The collaboration between the instructor and students will motivate and assist students reach self-discovery. In order for students to develop the learning skills for success, requires a constant review and modification of teaching styles. Flexibility and modification of teaching methods must be a requirement for instructors to meet the needs of the students.
Dewey (1938) noted, without proper reflection and direction these students to their own approach to learning jeopardizing academic success. Instructors need to remain conscientious in evaluating and implementing adult learning theories into their practices. Understanding the role of instructors affects the learning on students and professional occupation (Shovein, Huston, Fox, & Damazo, 2005).
Transformation learning theory identifies there is no single approach to meet the needs of all students, flexibility to change is required as each student is unique. Education does not occur within the confines of a classroom, despite a common misinterpretation of an education. The boundaries of an education expand to every aspect in an individual's everyday situations (Gutek, 2004). Education is a lifelong process, expanding the horizons of one's knowledge. Education is bias only to those who prefer to live in ignorance, the transformation occurs when student understands there is more to life than ill-conceived notion and attitudes.