Newer Approaches to Adult Learning

Learning Objectives

  • [1]Compare and contrast the principles of major theories of learning and cognition and how they relate to adult learners.
  • [2]Explain the development of cognitive processes throughout adulthood.
  • [3]Provide a rationale for instructional strategies based on specific cognitive and/or learning principles.

Key Takeaways

  • Some of the previous understandings of learning has been debunked.
  • Additional theories have been added throughout the years due to technology.
  • Neuroscience and learning theory have evolved exponentially since the invention of the MRI.

Popular Myths about Learning

According to Ulrich Boser, there are some misconceptions about learning (that we may believe) that research and studies have been proven not only inaccurate, but harmful to learning (Vozza, 2017).

Myth 1 – We have a set of learning styles commonly known as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. Better put – we have a preferred way of learning but we can learn in any of the ways depending on subject matter. Example: a kinesthetic learner cannot learn to sing a song by doing; learning would be auditory. {more reading can be found here}

Myth 2 – Rereading material is a good way to learn.  While 80% of those surveyed in Boser’s study believed it was a highly effective tool in learning, research shows that quizzing yourself is a much better way to retain material. The repetitive nature of quizzing yourself fosters retention of content. Check out Quizlet for creating a free way to quiz yourself.

Myth 3 – Focus on one subject at a time to learn best.  Studies show, however, that interdisciplinary studies produce better understanding. Hyper-focusing on one subject can become overwhelming and tedious. Switching between subjects gives the brain time to absorb the information and reflect. This is not to be confused with multitasking. Sometimes taking a break and returning refreshed is the best way to learn.

Myth 4 – Your first answer is often the right answer.  Although we tend to believe this, taking a moment to consider the answer is a better approach. As noted in myth three, the brain needs time to absorb information, reflect, and associate.

Myth 5 – The more hours you devote to learning something, the better your understanding will be.   Actually, just because someone puts several hours into writing a research paper, this does not make them an expert on writing any more than a person who put very little time into writing. In fact, it can often be more beneficial to spend less time with more focused feedback and input. [1]

New Approaches to Adult Learning

There are several expansions in adult learning theory that go beyond Andragogy and look to the future of adult education. Understanding the simple fact that adults learn through experiences, exposure, connectivity, and engagement with peers provide an overview of adult learning.


Connectivism [2]

People Connecting

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  • Learning through connections in networks of people (constituents, peers, social groups) and/or things (internet, social media)
  • Theory promoted by Stephen Downes and George Siemens that explains the rapidly changing digital world and the complex learning experiences associated with it.
  • “Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing. Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.” – Siemens
  • Siemen’s Principles of connectivism:
    • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
    • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
    • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
    • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
    • Nurturing and maintaining connections facilitates continual learning.
    • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
    • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
    • Decision-making is, in itself, a learning process. Choosing what to learn (and the meaning of incoming information) is decided through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong one tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.



  • Neuroscience is how the brain learns: By connecting what it already knows, looking for patterns, emotions, and experiences.  This explains why repetition is crucial to learning. There has been an abundance of research to demonstrate how brains learn and how neuroplasticity plays a role in adult learning. (More information will be discussed in Chapter 5)

Lara Boyd, PT, PhD website


Transformative (Ah-ha moments)

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  • Learning through a change of perspective through critical reflection of beliefs and assumptions.
  • Transformative learning supplements regular learning (such as acquiring facts or learning a new skill) (Brock, Florescu, & Teran, 2012).


  • A mother originally thinks that Facebook is appropriate for her eleven year old son.   The mother then spends a good amount of time on Facebook where she posts her political positions and gets intense reactions from her friends and family. These reactions become increasingly hostile, often resulting in her being blocked by others or by her blocking her friends/family. The mother has increased stress due to the overall situation. How might the mother’s beliefs transformed? She once thought her eleven year old could handle Facebook, but now finds Facebook troubling.  She has transformed her opinion of her son having his own Facebook page.




  • Spiritual learning (not necessarily religion) involves  learning from a spiritual experience (a birth, death, music, nature, meditation) that can be used to construct knowledge.
  • People construct knowledge through past experiences. Experiences can be from images, songs, stories, rituals, or other experiences that help integrate knowledge in new ways. (Tisdell, 2009, p. 457).
  • Tisdell (2009) states, “Thus, attending to spirituality in adult learning involves making space for its expression, attending to paradox, sacredness, and the graced moments in teaching and learning that lead to unexpected insights” p. 457.


  • Embodied learning is an awareness of bodily experiences as sources of knowledge.
  • We learn in many ways.  Our brain makes sense of experiences. Because our brain is part of our body, we cannot rule out the fact that our bodies play a large role in our learning.
  • Traditional learning in the classroom is restrictive to learning with the whole body. The need to learn through all senses is a large part of how we learn in a holistic manner.
  • Experiencing events out of our comfort zone (like taking risks, and facing challenges) is important to growth.  It is also important to understand our bodies’ reaction to these types of experiences.


Narrative Learning

  • Narrative learning gives meaning to learning through experience.
  • Sharing stories has been a custom of an infinite amount of generations. People learn from the sharing of stories.
  • According to Clark and Rossiter (2009), narrative learning is a two-fold concept:
    • Learning comes through from story telling &
    • is the learning process is conceptualized.
      • Learners engage on a human level:
        • by hearing stories that appeal to our imagination and emotions,
        • telling stories and understanding one’s own learning and experience, and
        • recognizing stories and beginning to understand their position to create room for critique.
  • Clark and Rossiter (2009) state, “Learning something means working to create a coherent narrative of new ideas and concepts – we story our understanding (p. 460).
  • Narrative learning is an ongoing process where we identify what we don’t yet understand and we recognize gaps or things we still do not understand.


21st Century Learning

  • In a post-industrialized world, we find a need for a new way of teaching and learning. The 21st century has shown that the United States is falling behind in innovation and STEM disciplines.
  • Grant Lichtman discusses, in his TEDx Talk, about how to create great educational opportunities and how to break down the barriers that are preventing teachers from being empowered to teach students to be “self-evolving learners”?

What 60 Schools Can Tell Us About Teaching 21st Century Skills | Grant Lichtman

Blooms Taxonomy, Constructivism, and Skills for the 21st Century


Blooms Taxonomy has long been used to describe and organize thinking behaviors that are considered important to learning outcomes. Describing differing levels of complexity, Benjamin Bloom organized learning into six major categories, from the simplest behavior to the most complex. At the more basic end of the spectrum is knowledge, with the most complex demonstration of learning being described as evaluation.

The 6 levels including sample outcome verbs are listed below:

  • Knowledge (Recall data or information) e.g.: defines, describes, identifies, knows, labels, lists, matches, names, outlines, recalls, recognizes, reproduces, selects, states.
  • Comprehension (Understand the meaning) e.g.: comprehends, converts, defends, distinguishes, estimates, explains, extends, generalizes, gives an example, infers, interprets, paraphrases, predicts, rewrites, summarizes, translates.
  • Application (Use a concept in a new situation ) e.g.: applies, changes, computes, constructs, demonstrates, discovers, manipulates, modifies, operates, predicts, prepares, produces, relates, shows, solves, uses.
  • Analysis (Separate material or concepts into component parts so that its organizational structure may be understood. Distinguishes between facts and inferences) e.g.:
  • Synthesis (Put parts together to form a whole, with emphasis on creating a new meaning or structure) e.g.: categorizes, combines, compiles, composes, creates, devises, designs, explains, generates, modifies, organizes, plans, rearranges, reconstructs, relates, reorganizes, revises, rewrites, summarizes, tells, writes
  • Evaluation (Make judgments about the value of ideas or materials. ) e.g.: appraises, compares, concludes, contrasts, criticizes, critiques, defends, describes, discriminates, evaluates, explains, interprets, justifies, relates, summarizes, supports


Technology and the New Bloom’s Taxonomy for the 21st Century Learner

The wide spread adoption of technology has led a group of cognitive psychologists, including Lorin Anderson (a former student of Bloom), to modernize Bloom’s original taxonomy/hierarchy. Reflective of the new core competencies associated with the integration of technology into the classroom and workplace, the updated taxonomy places creating at the highest level of cognitive skill.

The following diagrams compare Bloom’s original taxonomy with Anderson’s revised taxonomy (Blue/Original – Yellow/Revised):


Digital Blooms: Verbs (Learning Outcomes) & Their Nouns (Tools)

The Digital Blooms Pyramid represents the new learning outcomes as defined by the hierarchical verbs and some of the sample tools (nouns) that can be used to facilitate learning.

spacerwiki280.gifBlooms_Taxonomy_Digital Blooms_Taxonomy_Digital_Explained.JPGspacerwiki280.gif

Click the link below to view an explanation of Bloom’s Taxonomy for the Digital world.

Connectivism, Technology, and Validity

Think about how knowledge was held and transmitted centuries ago. Back in the early days of higher education, the exchange of knowledge was done by an “expert” to a “pupil” and disseminated through lectures, texts, and ancient scrolls. Now travel through time to today, where you will find adult learning being done digitally through shared thoughts and experiences.  Everyone now has a platform to contribute to:  the World Wide Web, Social Media, Wikipedia, Blogs, and on and on. There are conflicting viewpoints and perspectives on every topic.  Does that make one perspective more valid than another? Fake news? OR Do all perspectives have some validity that you may not have otherwise explored? The following video puts connectivism and learning and validity into perspective.

  1. Vozzo, S. (2017, May 17). Five Popular Myths About Learning That Are Completely Wrong. Retrieved from Fast Company:
  2. Contributions to are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License. Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License
  3. Merriam, Sharan B. (2009). “Beyond Andragogy: New Directions in Adult Learning Theory,” Adult Education Research Conference.
  4. [footnote]21st Century Learning by used under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License, some videos and photos removed.


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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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