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Adult Education

Study Skills and Learner Organization

Watch your step! Under Construction.

There's some good stuff here but it's a mess!

Some students have never learned how to learn. Adult learners often have difficulty with longterm memory. Helping students to organize information and connect to previous experiences can aid in retention. Alan Knox suggests the following to aid adults in retrieving and storing information in long-term memory (P.92-94, Apps):

Through metacognition, the student's understanding of the way s/he learns, students can begin to ask for the type of information each one needs in order to succeed.

Self-management is defined as the willingness and capacity to conduct one's own education. Those engaged in self-managed learning will diagnose needs (with or without outside assistance), select sources for help from others, determine what is personally meaningful (distinct from the reward system of the institution), honestly acknowledge weaknesses and shortcomings, and change tactics when the current strategy is not working. We often assume all adult students have these skills. However, self-management is often a function of life experiences, environmental factors, and social forces (P.61-65, Cranton). Clearly, some students need help in building their self-management skills. This page provides some suggestions for building those skills.

Transformative Learning
According to Apps, the transformational process includes five phases (P.34-35):

  1. Developing awareness
    Learners must recognize their lack of knowledge or incorrect knowledge before they can begin to learn.
  2. Exploring alternatives
    once they are aware of their deficits, students are ready to hear laternatives
  3. Making a transition
    Students begin leaving the old approaches behind and adopting new ones.
  4. Achieving integration
    Students are ready to reassemble their knowledge.
  5. Taking action
    The ideas are put into practice with the posssibility of movement back through the previous steps.

Students are often unaware of the need to move through these steps. When they enter phase 1, they become concerned that they are more confused and less able to handle problems than they had been. It is important to assure them that this is a normal and important part of learning as an adult.

The implication of these steps is equally important for the instructor. If learners are not presented with proof of the present inadequacy of their knowledge, they will not be motivated to learn. We should not assume (as we often do) that students will believe something is worth learning solely because we say it is.


  • Personality Inventories
  • Keirsey Temperament Inventory

    Learner Support Most significant adult learning involves both joyful and painful elements. Learners fluctuate betwen episodes of anxiety-producing self-scrutiny and energy-inducing leaps of ability and understanding (P. 12, Brookfield). Hence, it is important to warn students about this time of anxiety and to provide resources for them to draw on. These resources might include flexible office hours and information about Student Support services available through the institution.

    Learner Resources
    For those adults who are ready to be self-directed, the ability to access resources is a key to success. These resources fit into three main categories (P.51, Merriam et al.):

    It is important to make these resources available and easy to access. An orientation to the location of these resources can be very helpful.

    The following is a list of characteristics or behaviors exhibited by intelligent human beings: (P.1-6, Costa)

    Research shows that the simple step of having a student create a study schedule and then making a formal, public commitment to adhering to it will actually show improved academic performance. This is especially useful in procrastinating underacheivers ((P.506, Leeming) One of the best indicators of student gains is level of engagement in active learning (Kuh et al.). We often assume students know that they should do these things. For students who have no cultural experience with higher learning and who were not college prep in high school, the chances are small that are assumptions will be met. The following is a list of items classified as active learning (P.451-452, Kuh et al.) Consider sharing these with your students and heltping them to build these skills.

    Students often do not understand that college is about learning, not about being taught.

    Cooperation Among Students
    One of the best predictors of student gains is the amount of cooperation among students that a learner experiences. (P.450-451, Kuh) Examples of cooperation among students are:

    Cognitive Maps

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    Apps, Jerold W., The Adult Learner on Campus. Follet Publishing Co., Chicago, 1981.
    Though some of the material may be dated, this book contains many useful examples of exemplary practices.

    Brookfield, Stephen,Why Can't I Get this Right? Myths and Realities in Facilitating Adult Learning.Adult Learning: April 1992, P12-15.

    Costa, Arthur, What Human Beings Do When They Behave Intelligently and How They Can Become More So. Paper presented by Arthur Costa, California State University, Sacramento.
    The author lists characteristics and behaviors exhibited by intelligent people.

    Cranton, Patricia, Professional Development as Transformative Learning, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1996.

    Kuh, Pace, and VesperProcess Indicators to Estimate Student Gains. p. 450 etc from mag. in CRC.***

    Leeming, Frank C.,Commitment to Study as a Technique to improve Exam Performance.Journal of College Student Development: Vol. 38, No. 5, Setp/Oct 1997.
    The author presents his research on asking students to commit to studying.

    Merriam, Sharan B. and Rosemary S. Caffarella, Learning in Adulthood. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1991
    This excellent resource offers a number of topics in adult education.

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    Last edited: September, 2009 -- Thanks Suzy!
    Send comments and suggestions to Roberta S. Lacefield
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