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Adult Learning – Part 2

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Read Part 1 of Adult Learning on making connections.

Learning Design Strategies

Transmission – Daniel Pratt and Associates (2005) [1] have identified five overarching approaches to adult teaching and learning that are also helpful for designers to consider. Perhaps the most familiar is the transmission perspective which focuses on the effective delivery of content. Although the value of this approach to learning is often vigorously debated, the subtle truth is that the excellent transmission of knowledge from one who has mastered a subject can be very helpful for certain kinds of learning goals. For example, most disciplines require the acquisition of basic and essential understandings for practitioners to be able to interact and function at more advanced levels. These disciplinary building blocks are typical in introductory levels of learning. Although this perspective is all too often overused in higher education today, designers should consider when the delivery of content knowledge is an essential strategy for certain components of your learning design. 

Apprenticeship – One of the challenges in campus-based instruction is the limitation of not having the right environment to maximize experiential or situated learning. This is why some programs require residencies or guided field work. Online education has the advantage that adult learners can remain in their normal life, work, and ministry contexts. So, how might you design learning that pushes desired cognitive, behavioral, and affective learning goals into these real-world contexts? One way would be to establish parallel structures of local mentorship in which learners can practice, reflect upon, and receive feedback regarding their immediate practice of what they are learning. Praxis: learning, practice, reflection, dialogueIf mentorship is not possible, you could adopt a praxis learning model in which the learner engages in a cycle of learning, practice, reflection, and dialogue. In these cases, apprenticeship is envisioned as taking shape through the activity of the online learning community and within the contexts of learners’ real-world settings. 

Developmental – Pratt and Associates (2005) argue that these next two strategies are “closely linked,” and that educators need “to operate from both to be successful in either” (128). The developmental approach focuses on building “a bridge from the curriculum-as-plan to the curriculum-as-lived by the learners” (134). The design focus surrounds helping faculty bridge individual gaps which separate the learner from desired growth and learning. Although it may not be within your purview to help faculty acquire bridging skills, you can generate diagnostic feedback mechanisms that provide learner feedback to faculty so that they will better understand the starting points of the learners in their courses. Designers can also work with subject matter experts in designing self-assessment tools for learners to self-diagnose areas of desired development. 

Nurturing – As with the developmental approach, the nurturing approach rests predominantly on the role of the teacher in the learning experience. In simple terms, the nurturing approach seeks to cultivate the educator-student relationship while helping learners gain confidence and nurturing a growth mindset in the learner. From a design perspective, consider expanding beyond a performance-based only approach to learning, which simply focuses on the outside evaluation of the teacher, to a competence-based approach, which also focuses on internal evaluation by the learner. Consider incorporating reflective learning activities and integrative application assignments that ask learners to make sense of their learning in personal ways. Consider how an introductory “get-to-know-one-another” activity might allow learners and teachers to connect personally in ways that also connect with the learning goals. 

Social Reform – Although the social reform approach reflects a diverse set of beliefs about the purposes and pedagogies of teaching and learning, most would generally hold to the notion that the goal of teaching is to foster the creation of a better society or world. Designers utilizing this approach would seek to devise learning activities which foster collaborative interaction around action-oriented, social engagement. From a biblical worldview, this could mean designing learning opportunities that seek to empower local groups to engage in missional ministry. It could also mean designing debriefing opportunities where online learners dialogue around their experiences in putting specific learning goals into practice within their local contexts. Thus, the learning goal would be to foster authentic dialogue in which learners and teachers encourage and assist one another in the pursuit of real-world solutions to real-world problems. 


[1] Pratt, D. & Associates (1998). Five perspectives on teaching in adult and higher education. Malabar, FL: Krieger.



Adult Learning – Part 1
Self-Directed Learning