How does age and culture affect a learner’s motivation?

WordleThis post continues my exploration of Wlodkowski’s book, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults*. In this section, Wlodkowski discusses how aging and culture may affect the motivation to learn. While age and culture are issues that affect learning, they can be mitigated through instructor attention.

Throughout the book, Wlodkowski primarily focuses on working adults (25 to 64 years old); this is important to keep in mind because often his assumptions are focused on  his group. The other two groups are younger adults and older adults, and they bracket the working adults.

Wlodkowski points out that 73 percent of all colleges students are nontraditional students who typically not only go to school but also must support themselves. There are a number of reasons why an adult would need to continuously learn, e.g., rapid social change in workplace, job obsolescence, aging workers, and changing life-styles (Hiemstra & Sisco, 1990). Information or knowledge in fields becomes obsolete in a matter of years rather than lifetimes (Knowles, 1980).

Expect to see more and more lifelong learners. Because of the increasingly changing world, more individuals are going back to school. Lifelong learning it seems to be self-perpetuating. The more involvement in adult education, the more individuals continue to stay involved. Adult education participation increases from 6% for grade school graduates to 38% for those who have gone to college (Knowles, 1980). With more and more people pursuing education, they are also doing it in different stages of life. As a result, age becomes a factor.

Aging does affect learning in that as adults become older their physical functions such as sight and hearing begin to degrade. However, their capability to learning does not degrade. If adult learners are allowed to pace the speed of learning, they are as proficient as younger learners.

Wlodkowski offers suggestions for adjusting to adult learners:

  • Allow older learners to control the pace of learning.
  • Provide more time for adult learners to process visual material.
  • Ensure presentations are within the auditory range of learners, and control for distracting sounds.
  • Adjust presentations or instruction to account for working memory. Instruction needs to be broken down to bite size bits of information for easier processing.
  • Make information relevant to the learner otherwise it will be discarded.
  • Tie new material to a learner’s previous experience.

Wlodkowski and Cross provide a list of suggestions for helping adult learners learn new material:

  1. Make information relevant
  2. Use physical aids or memory aids to help organize information
  3. Pace the information appropriately
  4. Focus on one idea at a time
  5. Summarize often
  6. Encourage interactive note taking
  7. Apply information in a realistic setting

One of the areas Wlodkowski discussed that I found very interesting was that of practical intelligence. This seems to be an area that is especially important to adult learners but more research is needed. It basically focuses on knowledge developed through experience. The knowledge needed to solve problems as they experience them in work, home, or play. Each discipline has knowledge necessary to the success of that discipline. In my opinion, it is knowledge common to the field. An expert in a field, is someone who has mastered this common knowledge. Understanding what this knowledge is and identifying gaps in an individual’s knowledge would help a learner develop in a field of study.

Another area I found to be interesting and relevant to Cooperative Extension was the idea of life transition from Carol Aslanian. I see this closely tied to the life-cycle phases of Robert Havighurst. Basically, an individual is motivated to learn something new because of a problem they are facing; this problem may be a result of life transition or a change in life-cycle. For example, if a company is downsizing, an individual may  need to look for a new job; therefore, they would need to brush up on job finding skills. This would be an example of a life transition. On the other hand, if an individual was preparing for retirement, he would begin to explore material  appropriately; however, they would not typically do this at a much earlier life-cycle stage.

Finally, Wlodkowski discusses the challenge culture diversity plays on learning. He points out that we need to respect different cultures and work towards making a learning environment that is inviting to everyone. Learning is strengthened when it is tied to a learner’s experience; thus, the more we can understand a learner to include cultural differences the more success we will have passing on knowledge.

If you want to have a motivating lesson, you must plan for it.

Cross, K. (1991). Adults as learners: Increasing participation and facilitating learning (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hiemstra, R., & Sisco, B. (1990). Individualizing instruction: Making learning personal, empowering, and successful (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Knowles, M. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy (Rev. and Updated.). Chicago: Association Press; Follett Pub. Co.

Wlodkowski, R. (2008). Enhancing adult motivation to learn: A comprehensive guide for teaching all adults (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint.

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