This blogpost was originally published in Estonian by Katrin Karu
Today, there are various opportunities to improve professional skills and develop oneself - at work, by participating in recreational activities, engaging in hobbies, traveling, and participating in online courses. Despite the extensive opportunities, people come to study and gain experience at a university, where learning is considered to be one of the most influential transition experiences of lifelong learning. In my doctoral dissertation, I researched students' perceptions of learning, teaching, and of themselves as learners.
The aim of the research was to find out what the students experience while studying at university and how he or she makes sense of what he or she experiences. This is in a situation where the typical student is no longer 18-25 years old, but rather an older adult with unique learning, working, and life experiences. The renewed situation thus places greater expectations and responsibilities on university studies than before - the university must take into account the diversity of students and support the adult learner in finding effective ways of teaching.
Andragogical perception of the learner
When planning and conducting learning, it is important to rely on the theory of andragogy, which identifies the prerequisites of an adult learner to be taken into account when choosing teaching methods.
- An adult learner's expectations are based on his or her experience, so experiential methods such as problem-solving and discussion are preferred in learning in order to validate, expand or reshape previous experiences.
- The adult learner is sufficiently autonomous to take an active role in acquiring knowledge, communicating and collaborating, and to take responsibility for their own learning and learning.
- The adult learner wants to increase their competence and apply the acquired skills and knowledge immediately to solve the challenges that life offers.
- The adult learner wants to be respected and to experience the adult attitude that is familiar to him or her in social situations.
- For the adult learner, learning competes with other important roles and activities.
- Starting to study is usually a voluntary decision in adulthood, which is why one is aware of one's own learning needs as well as motivation to learn.
Does the university education account for the adult learners' prior experiences, creating adequate communication and cooperation opportunities, and allows them to be respected?
What does an adult learner experience in university?
The study found that learning allows students to acquire knowledge and construct personal meanings, but they experience involvement, communication, and interaction less. Students want to be as active in learning as possible, to be self-directed, and to take responsibility for what they have learned. Students expect equal relationships, mutual respect, and opportunities to learn from each other in the learning process.
It is noteworthy that a more diverse meaning is sought for teaching, as teaching is not perceived as a one-sided activity. Learners find those learning situations contradictory where they are taught only through reading slides, dictated by an expert or understandings are imposed, because in this way they remain in the role of a passive receiver merely performing. Rather, there is a desire for a way of teaching that is a two-way process, in which the learner can also contribute, where they can use their previous experience and collaborate because then they feel like an important partner for both the teacher and the fellow students. The self is understood through social needs - the desire to be a cooperation partner and a colleague is what emerged. Mutual influence in study groups is valued because it allows for the creation of knowledge relevant to the field and to become a member of the professional community. For an adult, learning holds the meaning of acquisition, participation, and communication, belonging, and cooperation.
What can be learned from these results?
Figure: The andragogical model of university education
The andragogical model of university education
As a result of the research, an action model was completed that combines a socio-constructivist and socio-cultural approach to learning and teaching and focuses on the needs of the adult learner.
The model is based on learning and teaching as an interactive process that supports both individual and social processes. When planning and carrying out education the learner's individual, relationship-related, and collective resources are the central components. Taking them into account guides you to make choices that acknowledges the learner's previous experiences, to encourage the learner to take more responsibility in learning situations, to create opportunities for involvement, communication, and cooperation.
The model enables those who teach adult learners to make more diverse choices, use and combine ways of teaching, methods that involve the adult learners more, integrate field-relevant, life and work experience to find solutions to problems and challenges, and support learner self-awareness and autonomy. It also values intra-group and student-faculty interaction and encourages collaboration. In addition, it helps students to understand and appreciate the existence or the scarcity of their own resources as learners.
Adult learning is a life-enriching process as it enables personal, social, and professional development. In educational institutions, we can create conditions for adults to learn based on andragogical principles.
The article was also published in 'Educators' Newspaper' (Õpetajate Leht) 12.06.2020
Katrin Karu has been working as a lecturer in the field of andragogy at Tallinn University since 1997. The university has been one of the creators of andragogy (3 + 2) curricula and since 2016 the curator of the bachelor's curriculum. One of the trainers and the head of the curriculum of the minor specialty "Adult trainer" offered in the period 2008-2013. Between 1997 and today, she has been working as an adult educator whos target group has been university teachers, in-house trainers and adult educators.