The adult learner

Written by Barry Johnson on 28 February 2018

A crucial role of the manager is ensuring the development of his or her staff. It is the employees of the department that produce the outputs. Their effectiveness and efficiency crucially depend on the manger ensuring they have the skills and knowledge to produce the required outputs.

It also depends on the employees working as teams and those teams acting in concert. That requires the manager working as a leader, ensuring the department values match the organisations values, that the objectives of individuals, teams and those of the the department are congruent with the organisations objectives and strategies.

This management role is fundamental to organisational performance. Essential to this is the manager's understanding of the requirements of adult learning.

The learning needs of the employees are identified and employees attend appropriate learning events and the work environment has an operational learning environment for employees and it is the manager’s uses that environment to develop his or her employees.

This management role is fundamental to organisational performance. Essential to this is the manager's understanding of the requirements of adult learning.

Malcolm Knowles' 'Andragogy' suggests the following are the characteristics of an adult in relation to their learning.

  1. Self-concept. As a person matures his or her self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being. In essence the employees should be treated as adults. The key to this is to ask rather than tell and through that engage the employee as a member of the department.
  2. Experience. As a person matures he or she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning and his or her ownership of the necessary work in an organisation.
  3. Readiness to learn. As a person matures his or her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his or her social roles.
  4. Orientation to learning. As a person matures her or his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his or her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem-centredness.
  5. Motivation to learn. As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal. Managers should work with the employee and enable the opportunity for each of them to learn on the job through coaching and exposure to opportunities.

Professor Silvia Downs makes the points that: The learning environment has to be one of trust, respect, openness and acceptance of differences. Being aware of, and owning the responsibility for learning lies with the learner. Others can only provide information, support, learning facilitation and provide feedback.

Effective learning depends on a realistic learning culture, clarity of business and personal objectives and constructive learning feedback. Under democratic conditions authority is the group.

From Gessner, 1956. It is the manager's duty to help employees manage themselves and their learning. 

References:  The Adult Learner Malcolm S Knowles Ph.D. (1913 – 1997). Making Learning Happen Professor Silvia Downs. (1926 – 2016)


About the author

Barry Johnson BA, CMCIPD, MCMI, is a non-executive director at Learning Partners Ltd

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