Adult Learning Focuses On Problem-Solving
Commentators, including Malcolm Knowles, have proposed seven principles of adult learning. Two are relevant to what I am writing about today, that adult learning focuses on problem-solving and adults learn by doing.
I facilitate several subjects including business law, accounting and project management. While these are very different subjects the participants all learn by doing - and adult learning focuses on problem-solving.
Having this knowledge of adult learning in the background helps me to plan the content and delivery of my courses, whether they are higher education award subjects or training for executives. I try to make the content and delivery engaging. One way to do this is to have relevant activities in class, noting that these activities can also be used for formal assessment. A class activity example from my business law class is -
Reef Tours - Answer the following:
You are a senior manager at Reef Tours, and you have been made aware of slackness in running the tours, which can be summarised in the below image. You are concerned about the welfare of key stakeholders, including the public, employees and the organisation.
- Identify the key legal issues.
- Suggest ways to mitigate them.
A key aspect of the above activity is that it requires the participant to think broadly. If I asked for the contract law issues, then I am telegraphing what I seek. However, to get the participant to think holistically I made the question broader. Also using sensible humour helps engagement, and I hired a cartoonist to draw humorous cartoons for use in class. The above is just one example of many.
I live by the above principles of adult learning, and by two mantras. The first is what you learn today you should be able to use at work tomorrow, and the second is that classes should be engaging. I find that the learners appreciate both, and I am often told that it helps their learning. Furthermore, I try to put myself in the shoes of the participants, to make myself aware of their key content and delivery issues.
Adults learn by doing and adult learning focuses on problem solving; Make the content and the delivery engaging for the recipient; Sensible humour can go a long way to help engagement; See the educational experience also from the participant’s viewpoint; Use case studies, information, videos, business documents, props, cartoons etc. that are relevant to what you are facilitating.
Associate Professor Cyril Jankoff is Associate Dean, Scholarship; an Associate Director, Undergraduate Studies; and a Fellow of the Centre for Scholarship and Research (since 2021)