The Best Adult Learning is Social Learning


Aaron Wolowiec (who’s recently launched EventGarde LLC, a brand new consulting firm for meetings and educational strategy) has a MUST READ post on adult learning principles and andragogy (which “places value on the process of learning. It uses approaches to learning that are problem-based and collaborative rather than didactic or rooted in lecture, and also emphasizes more equality between the instructor and the learner.”) Read the full post for a LOT more info on these key principles, including  tips on what content leaders (education staff or or subject matter experts) can do to foster good adult learning in your educational courses.  In a nutshell:

1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed. Adult learners resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions (or when content leaders appear unprepared, inexperienced or inauthentic).

2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences. Adults like to be given the opportunity to use their existing foundation of knowledge and apply their various life experiences to their own professional development.

3. Adults are goal oriented. Adult learners become ready to learn when they experience a need to learn in order to cope more satisfyingly with real-life tasks or problems.

4. Adults are relevancy oriented. Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to what they want to achieve.

5. Adults are practical. Through hands-on exercises and collaborative brainstorming, learners move from classroom and textbook mode to hands-on problem solving where they can recognize first-hand how what they are learning applies to life and the context of work.

6. Adult learners like to be respected. Content leaders can demonstrate respect by:

  • Taking an active interest in the development of all learners;
  • Acknowledging the wealth of experiences that the learners bring to their work;
  • Regarding learners as colleagues with unique perspectives and valuable life experience; and
  • Encouraging the expression of new ideas, reasoning and feedback at every opportunity.

Aaron poses the question, how can you incorporate these principles when planning education, when designing your meetings, when choosing (or training) your speakers?

It’s also clear that this is also what we’re trying to do when we’re incorporating social learning design into the education and training that we do here at SocialFish.  These adult learning principles are far older than social media – but social media can help immensely in designing learning modules that are more participatory, more peer-to-peer,  more networked (sharing content and resources from other sources), more layered and more long-term (resources build over time; discussions happen before, during and after the event).  Social learning to me is adult learning amplified and made even more awesome.

Social learning also helps learning spread through the whole system. Learning and work should be one and the same thing, in an ideal world – but it’s not so inconceivable once you start proactively incorporating social learning into your organizational activities. I love this slide deck by Harold Jarche which makes some of those connections. See what you think.


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