Understanding Yourself as a Learner

One of the significant differences between young people and adult learners is that adult learners tend to want a degree of control over their learning.  Their learning is often situational, arising from something they are going through.  They want the freedom and flexibility to learn exactly what they need to learn and be able to apply it to the particulars of their situation.  Choice is important to adult learners. 

Adult learners also tend to benefit from experiential, hands-on learning opportunities.  Most adult learners, keen to apply their learning, have little interest in theory.

In addition to understanding yourself as an adult learner, it can be helpful to identify your dominant learning style.  In the most commonly used model, learners are identified as having one of three preferences: 

  • Visual (learning by seeing)
  • Auditory (learning by hearing)
  • Kinaesthetic (learning by doing)

For an explanation of each, along with strategies for optimal learning, read this brief introduction for students provided by the University of Western Ontario’s Student Development Centre.         

David Kolb, an educational theorist, studied learning and discovered that every learner goes through four phases: 

  • We experience something new;
  • We reflect on that experience;
  • We generalise to other situations based on our reflection and experience;
  • We apply what we have generalised and come to understand. 

Understanding the necessity of reflecting on experience and giving yourself time to do so can enhance your ability to learn. 

The most important thing to understand about learning is that it is something we can all do.  Recent neuroscience research on the functioning of the human brain indicates that it is, in fact, remarkably pliable.  This means that even in our adult years, we can change our brain by learning something new.  In effect, we can change what we know.  According to Stanford University psychologist and researcher, Carol Dweck, the major factor in successful achievement of a goal (and success in life) is the person’s belief in the possibility of improving their abilities through effort, perseverance and resilience. 

In her groundbreaking book, Mindset, Dweck identifies two mindsets that are polar opposites to one another.  People with the fixed mindset believe that their basic abilities like intelligence and talent are fixed traits and cannot be developed.  They do not believe in effort.  People with the growth mindset believe that their basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.  They not only believe in effort, they develop a love of learning and a resilience that pushes them to keep trying.  Virtually, all successful people have a growth mindset. 

Suddenly we realized that there were two meanings to ability, not one:  a fixed ability that needs to be proven, and a changeable ability that can be developed through learning. 

Carol S. Dweck, Mindset

The good news is that, according to Dweck, it is possible to change from a fixed to a growth mindset.  For more information, see Dweck’s website. You might even want to read her book!

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