adult learning theory

Using Adult Learning Theory to Design Better PD for Teachers and Staff

It's a familiar experience for educators: they go to a professional development (PD) seminar and leave frustrated because it doesn't meet their expectations. They often can't pinpoint exactly what was wrong but know that something was missing. As a result, many teachers end up hating PD and only participating because their school districts require it, going through the motions without getting much out of it. Considering that public school districts in the US spend more than $20 billion a year on teacher training, to say they should have a vested interest in getting it right would be an understatement.

Many leaders don't realize that their district’s PD approaches are often ineffective for adult learners. They don’t take advantage of the skills that educators have acquired over a lifetime of study and classroom experience, thus causing a disconnect between the information that districts want to impart and the way that educators best learn and apply new knowledge, leading to less effective PD outcomes.

That's where adult learning theory comes in, as it focuses on the unique ways that adults acquire and process new information. When integrated into PD for educators, this theory enables districts to design programs relevant to the needs and experiences of educators who often prefer self-paced, microlearning experiences over traditional face-to-face classroom instruction. When paired with online learning hubs, adult learning theory can help districts create PD that is personalized, flexible, and impactful.

Understanding Adult Learning Theory

Adult learning theory first came to the forefront of educational research and practice in the 1970s and 1980s, after Malcolm Knowles introduced the concept of andragogy in 1968. Andragogy emphasizes the contrast in the ways that adults acquire and process information versus children. Since adults come to education with a wealth of experiences that children lack, a different approach to learning is required, one that includes practical, hands-on experiences.

Moreover, unlike children, adults want to understand the “why” behind what they're learning, and adult learning theory takes this all into account. Adults also prefer taking charge of their educational journey, setting goals, and applying new knowledge directly to real-life challenges and situations.

When applied to PD, this is what adult learning theory is all about. It recognizes that adults will benefit from PD programs that take their existing knowledge and experiences into account and put them to use. Adults thrive in educational contexts where they can immediately see the relevance and application of their new skills. PD that embraces this theory respects teachers' professional backgrounds and uses it to motivate and engage them throughout the learning process.

The Shift to Self-Paced Microlearning

School districts are increasingly recognizing that if they want their PD programs to reach teachers, they must employ many of the principles of adult learning theory, with self-paced microlearning being among the most important. This type of asynchronous learning puts teachers in the driver's seat, enabling them to control the pace of their learning and the timing. This type of learning is flexible, making room for the busy schedules and personal commitments that teachers must juggle throughout the school year.

Microlearning's focus on short, focused learning segments helps keep educators engaged by concisely addressing the topics that they need to work on. It also breaks down complex information into manageable chunks, effectively tapping into the working memory, thus making it easier for educators to absorb and retain information and PD less overwhelming and more achievable. This is especially helpful in the fast-paced school environment.

Since microlearning respects teachers' time and acknowledges their expertise, it can lead to increased job satisfaction and improved retention, as they’ll have the tools to quickly update their skills without the burnout associated with traditional PD sessions.

Integrating Adult Learning Theory in PD Design

PD designed with adult learners in mind is effective and engaging, so school districts should strive to incorporate adult learning theory principles into their PD programs. Doing so will help ensure that these programs are informative, relevant, and applicable to the educators' daily experiences.

One example of effective learning in a PD context is MobileMind's patent-pending guided learning technology. It enables educators to actively participate in the learning process by offering step-by-step instructions and hands-on challenges within their technology environments, such as Google Slides. This method of guided learning directly aligns with adult learning principles by providing practical, real-world applications and enabling educators to learn by doing, ensuring that they can immediately apply what they've been taught.

Features of an Effective Learning Hub

Learning hubs like MobileMind, with key features like personalized course creation, flexibility, and guided learning, make it easy for districts to incorporate adult learning theory into their PD for educators. MobileMind's course creation tools enable districts to design microlearning modules tailored to educators' needs and experiences, so they can work with content directly relevant to the issues that they face in the classroom. This personalization is a core component of adult learning theory, as it acknowledges and builds upon the learner's existing knowledge.

Final Thoughts

With options for self-paced learning, teachers can fit PD into their busy schedules, making it accessible without being disruptive. Another crucial component is a learner-friendly interface free of unnecessary technical barriers, thus promoting consistent engagement, reducing frustration, and making learning more enjoyable and effective.

There is no other modern professional development solution consolidating all training efforts while providing a learning hub that streamlines and integrates remote and in-person professional learning for schools. Are you ready to level up your district's professional learning with MobileMind? Schedule a professional learning consultation here.