Adult Learning: An Overview (Brookfield, 1995) provides an outline of the major concepts in adult education. The most general issue is the notion that “adult learning” is somehow different from learning. In all likelihood, learning is probably substantially the same at any age; if anything, adult learners may have several specific advantages over younger learners. For one thing, older students are more independently motivated than they were as adolescents or pre-adolescents and they are likely to be more self-directed as learners. This makes sense to me because, for one thing, adult learners generally return to school by their own choice whereas primary and secondary school is mandatory.
Critical Reflection and Experiential Learning
I can also understand why the author refers to critical reflection as such an important distinction between younger learners and adult learners because critical reflection is simply not a skill that is common for many people when they are of school age. As an adult learner, I believe that I am much better at recognizing my relative strengths and weaknesses as well as better able to make realistic decisions about my goals and about commitments and time management issues. The author refers to experiential learning which has significance to me as well, although I am not sure how it necessarily relates to returning to school. I now that there have been many occasions where I learned very quickly from the process of doing things that I realized would have taken me much longer to learn through traditional methods such as textbooks and lecture. In fact, I am particularly hopeful that I will have opportunities to learn in what the author calls “experiential” situations.
Learning to Learn
While I do appreciate any opportunity to learn experientially, I also believe that the author’s description of the ability to learn how to learn applies to me as well. As a younger student, I remember being somewhat obstinate and inflexible in that I always wanted to do things my way, even with the benefit of adult instruction. Today, I have the ability to recognize expertise in others and I respect the fact that they may know much more than I do about how to accomplish something in their area of expertise. I believe that my ability to adapt to different situations and to follow the directions of experts in the workplace will translate very well to the adult learning environment. Naturally, I also have some reservations about returning to a formal academic learning environment after so many years away from it. On the other hand, I am very hopeful that the maturity and perspective that I have developed in the meantime will more than compensate for any awkwardness or initial discomfort on my part.
Finally, the author discusses distance learning; that is something that I am the most enthusiastic about. Ever since I began using computers, I have always thought about how much easier school would have been with the benefit of the modern computer and Internet connectivity. I realize that distance learning pertains mainly to the electronic interaction between learners and instructors and to the mode of assignment submission. However, I am extremely enthusiastic about the prospect of doing academic research online instead of in person in libraries. In general, I am looking forward to the opportunity to resume my education but I have to admit that using computers in that respect is one of the things that I am looking forward to the most.
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