Introduction to Teaching & Learning in Adulthood

Learning Objectives

  • [1]Compare and contrast the principles of major theories of learning and cognition and how they relate to adult learners.
  • [7]Compare and contrast the characteristics of instructor-centered versus learner-centered and subject centered teaching and their effectiveness in promoting active learning, collaborative learning, self-direction and reflection by students.

Key Takeaways

  • The differences between philosophies, theories, and models in education
  • The overarching philosophies of education
  • Types of education
  • Student centered versus teacher centered learning


What’s the Difference Between Philosophies, Theories, and Models?

One might think philosophies, theories, and models may be all the same but, in actuality, they are distinctly different. Here, we will learn the differences in the three in an effort to build a base understanding of each. Although this is not a detailed account (we will save that for another course at another time) it will allow you to understand the chapters to come.

Visit Philosophies of Education for a chart that shows how it all comes together.

Philosophy: describes philosophy as “the study of the basic or fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline; a particular system of philosophical thought; and the study of the theoretical basis of a particular branch of knowledge or experience (, n.d.) – think of ethics, logic, and aesthetics. In education, philosophies are defined by how and what information are students are taught. Philosophies also include the roles of the teacher and the student, what methods of teaching will be used, and the purpose of learning.

Theory: describes a theory of a system of ideas that is intended to explain something – think of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. A theory can also be an idea that is used to justify a situation or the practice of an activity.

Model: a simplified representation of a system or phenomenon – think of charts, diagrams, and the like, which all represent theories.

Types of Education

How and when do we learn? Who do we learn from? We go to college/university to learn from professors who are experts in their fields and children learn from teachers. But, it should be mentioned, that we also learn from our everyday interactions with family, friends, peers, and even strangers. We also learn in different types of environments. Learning can happen in a formal classroom, taking a MOOC through Coursera, or a course through EdX. We can be listening in an informal environment to a speaker, or enjoying a discussion with an elder, or even talking with our friends. Learning can pretty much take place anywhere.

Review the following slides to gain an understanding of the different types of education.

Student Centered Versus Teacher Centered

Traditionally, teachers have been considered the experts in the classroom providing information through lectures, handouts, and/or texts. Students were typically stationary, absorbing the information (or so we thought they were). The expectation was that students consume information and then regurgitate the information back. Assessment practices included quizzes and tests designed to show that the students received the information.

A new way of teaching is beginning to catch on in both higher education and primary and secondary schools. Studies are beginning to show that students learn best through engagement, cooperation, autonomy, group discussion, and other non-traditional ways of learning. Technology is playing a big role in this change in the way we teach and learn. Rather than the teacher be the only expert in the class and disseminating information to the students, the teacher is supporting students who are driving the learning experience.

The graph below shows the differences between student centered and teacher centered learning.

Unbalanced Scale of Learner vs Student
Unbalanced Scale of Learner vs Student by Tracy Smith, 2018

What is needed to be a learner in the 21st century?

21st Century skills are:

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Creativity
  3. Collaboration
  4. Communication
  5. Information literacy
  6. Media literacy
  7. Technology literacy
  8. Flexibility
  9. Leadership
  10. Initiative
  11. Productivity
  12. Social skills

Have the skills changed much between centuries? The required skills did not change much but the classroom comparison has quite a bit. Technology has been a major factor in the changes in schools but there are some time-honored traditional learning strategies that still remain relevant. There are also some eliminations of classroom teachings that have gone by the wayside but perhaps should have remained.

A comparison of classrooms from the 20th century and the 21st century can be found here




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Teaching and Learning in Adulthood by Tracy Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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