EDU 6600 Communication and Collaboration: Reflection on Theories of Adult Learning

Adults and children learn in similar ways, but with marketed differences that need to be noted when planning and facilitating adult professional development. Both children and adults learn best when presented with creative opportunities, choice, structure, are given ownership of their learning, are motivated to learn, and are given opportunities to self-reflect on learning.

However, children often need more structure than adults, and adults thrive with self-directed learning and when learning is directly and immediately applicable to their life. Also, adult learning often, if not usually, involves collaborating with colleagues. Adults are more intrinsically motivated and self-directed, having learned sufficient skills to allow them to problem solve, cope with frustration, manage their time and prioritize tasks, and search for additional resources when necessary,  while children are still learning essential educational skills needed to become independent. However it is essential that adult professional development be in context and directly applicable to the learner’s daily work. It is also very important to have follow up on professional development, either through PLCs, further trainings, learning coaches, etc., as much adult learning is informal and incidental, and practitioners benefit from the reflective process, either individually or collaboratively.

According to Zepeda’s Adult Learning Theory, “adult learning should be built on ownership, appropriateness, structure, collaboration, internalization, reflection, and motivation.” (p.47) I agree that all these factors play integral roles in adult learning, however I believe that ownership and motivation, two qualities that are closely intertwined, are some of the most powerful but also the most frequently overlooked and under appreciated by politicians passing educational policy, and even by many district and school administrators.

Teacher leaders and administrators should be a facilitator of information and learning, not necessarily the source. This means their ideal role is listening to teachers or staff regarding what kind of training or resources they need, then going out and finding those resources, coming back to staff or teachers and continuing the cycle.

According to Zepeda, collaborative evaluation processes give teachers a sense of ownership in the learning and evaluation process, produce learning through participation in the evaluation process, enforce skills in self-reflection and skills in program evaluation, and improve communication among staff at different levels throughout the school. The benefits of engaging staff and stakeholders in the evaluative process of a staff development program seem to be many, yet this requires cultivating trust amongst staff and administrators.

Some new strategies for involving teachers in professional learning discussion and program evaluations that have been suggested in our group discussions  are:

  • listening sessions
  • sticky note brainstorms and then a follow up discussion
  • giving credit to others who have helped or have been a part of projects, teams, or initiatives, instead of taking the credit for ourselves

I have learned from my own professional development journey, and from watching those journeys of colleagues, that as teachers are used to being autonomous educational experts, it is essential that they own their own professional evolution. This means teachers will change at their own pace, when they are ready, and when they have compelling enough evidence to motivate them to invest the substantial amount of energy that is required to change pedagogy or practice. The old saying “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink” is appropriate here. If governments or districts or administrators try to force teachers to change without first getting teachers’ buy in, change will not take hold, and the culture of the school will be compromised in the process. We see this happen with regularity, whether talking about No Child Left Behind, state standardized testing, professional evaluation systems, data teams or PCCs/PLCs, or adoption of new curriculums. As Hilty states “given a reinforcing school culture and a self-confident principal willing to experiment and to share some power, the raw potential for teachers to become a serious force in local school policy would appear to be enormous.” (p.87) Unless teachers are entrusted with the power to lead within the school and have their voices heard in the decision making process, whether those voices are in agreement or dissension, unless you empower teachers, it is hard to get teacher buy in and thus motivation.

Hilty, E. B. (2011). Teacher leadership: The “new” foundations of teacher education: A reader. New York: P. Lang.
Zepeda, S. J. (2008). Professional development: What works. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

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