Te Arapiki Ako
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The nature of adult learners and learning

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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:28 by NZTecAdmin

A key factor in adult education is the variability of adults’ learning. In the past, it was often assumed that all adults would learn in the same way. Current theories of adult learning reflect the understanding that adults learn in many different ways for many different reasons. Because of this, it is very important that adult education programmes are learner-centred.

Adult learning is recognised as a form of participation in social practices. This means that learning occurs in all contexts of people’s lives. Learning is not just about behaviour and cognitive processing: current research findings6emphasise the importance of using the life experiences and life roles of adult learners and suggest that learning develops as adults engage in interactions with other people and with their social environment.7

Early models of adult learning that characterised adult cognition as either “stable” or “declining” have been rejected in favour of models that show continuing cognitive growth.8 As adult learners develop their expertise, they are able to engage with a wider range of more complex texts, or to solve more challenging mathematical problems, with greater independence and fluency. As their knowledge, skills and strategies develop, their confidence is likely to increase and, with it, their willingness to undertake more complex tasks that involve engaging with text or solving mathematical problems.

The adult learner’s increasing expertise is accompanied by an increasing awareness and control of their knowledge and skills. This means they are able to deliberately select from a wider repertoire of strategies and apply them in a wider range of contexts. When competent adults engage with texts or solve mathematical problems, they do so by automatically integrating strategies they have learnt.

6 For example, Fenwick and Tennant, 2004; Tusting and Barton, 2003.

7 Ivanicˇ and Tseng, 2005.

8 Pogson and Tennant, 1999.




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