The New Update on Adult Learning Theory: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education

The New Update on Adult Learning Theory: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education

The New Update on Adult Learning Theory: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education

The New Update on Adult Learning Theory: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education

Synopsis

This is the 89th volume of the quarterly journal "New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education."

Excerpt

Andragogy and self-directed learning continue to be
important to our present-day understanding of adult
learning.

The central question of how adults learn has occupied the attention of scholars and practitioners since the founding of adult education as a professional field of practice in the 1920s. Some eighty years later, we have no single answer, no one theory or model of adult learning that explains all that we know about adult learners, the various contexts where learning takes place, and the process of learning itself.

What we do have is a mosaic of theories, models, sets of principles, and explanations that, combined, compose the knowledge base of adult learning. Two important pieces of that mosaic are andragogy and self-directed learning. Other chapters in this volume focus on some of the newer approaches to understanding learning; the purpose of this chapter is to revisit two of the foundational theories of adult learning with an eye to assessing their “staying power” as important components of our present-day understanding of adult learning.

Early Research on Adult Learning

While we have known for centuries that adults learn as part of their daily lives, it wasn't until the early decades of the twentieth century that learning was studied systematically. The question that framed much of the early research on adult learning was whether or not adults could learn. The first book to report the results of research on this topic, Thorndike, Bregman, Tilton, and Woodyard's Adult Learning (1928), was published just two years after the founding of adult education as a professional field of practice. Thorndike and others approached adult learning from a behavioral psychological perspective. That is, people were tested under timed conditions on various learning and memory tasks.

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