Psychology of Adult Learning

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Discuss the relevance of psychology to your work as a literacy practioner. Support your discussion with the concepts, theories, models or frameworks from the Psychology of Adult Learning that you have found useful in guiding your thinking. There are many theories of psychology that have guided thinking in literacy practice. Different models focus on different factors that influence how people develop, behave and learn. Adult learners vary  greatly in their learning needs, aspirations and ability. Concepts of particular interest are those provided by Erikson and Rogers.

The focus of this essay will be on how Erikson’s theory of human development and Rogers person-centred approach can assist in literacy practice. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development believes that personality develops in a series of stages and describes the impact of social experience across the whole life span. Each stage is interdependent and the effect is accumulative throughout a person’s life. It’s not that transition from one stage to the next can’t occur. It just might be more difficult and take longer.

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This model provides a basis for comprehending and facilitating personal development, which can be applied to both tutor and student. There are 8 stages to development according to Erikson. These are; infant, toddler, pre-schooler, school-age child, adolescence, young adult, middle adult, old adult. A positive resolution of one stage increases the successful transition to the next stage. By using Erikson’s model, a tutor can identify, if someone is stuck at a particular stage and adapt the work to suit. Each stage has a psychosocial crisis, virtue and maladaptation.

By being aware of these issues, the tutor has a better idea of an area that a student needs to work on. For example, if someone is 40 years old and stuck in ‘the school-age child’ stage, the conflict of industry versus inferiority may present itself. By moving towards competency and reducing inertia the tutor can help shift the student. Creative writing is a useful tool, as there is safety in fiction. A group of students could be asked to write a short paragraph about themselves and to insert one lie. It is quite difficult to correctly guess the lie.

The students can have enjoyment with this and feel more comfortable expressing themselves as no-one can really know for sure if it is true or false. By expressing themselves in a safe environment they may learn about themselves and gradually move onto the next stage of development. An important question for a literacy practitioner to ask is ‘what life experiences are most relevant to learning and how can the learners’ relevant experiences be capitalised upon? Referring to Erikson’s chart can give the tutor an indication of where the student may be and the type of life events they may have experienced.

Using a ‘my history’ exercise can give the tutor an idea where they actually are in social relationships. It would entail filling in such details as name, birthday, number of children, spouse, brothers and sisters, their names, where I have worked and what I am good at. A ‘my history’ for a teenager may be different, as ‘number of children’ and ‘spouse’ would be less likely to have occurred at this stage. In a group situation ‘my history’ could be used as an icebreaker, where the student ‘interviews’ a fellow student and then introduces them to the class.

In a 1-1 situation if a parent showed an interest in cooking, lessons could be geared around researching recipes and making up recipe cards. This is something that can be done at a practical level at home by providing healthy meals for the family. Applying lessons that are relevant to their life stages, have more meaning to the students, so they would be more engaged and motivated to learn. It may prove useful for a tutor to look at his or her own developmental stage. It is very easy for a tutor to lay fault with the student and avoid looking at how they themselves could be affecting learning.

If the tutor is stuck in the school-age child stage and the student is stuck in the toddler stage, communication could be less than effective. Through gaining awareness of both life-spans it maybe possible to establish an adult teacher – adult learner relationship which would be ideal for learning. An essential element of development is change. This occurs when moving from one state to the other. By listening to their students and understanding how they cope with change, a tutor can ascertain how much support they need and how big or small the learning steps need to be.

They say that in response to change there are ‘those who let it happen, those who make it happen and those who wondered what happened. ’ (Anon). If a person has shown a knee-jerk response to big changes in their personal life, they may not be able for a big leap in the progression of their lessons. By being aware of givens, negotiables and controllables, a tutor can facilitate a smoother transition. This can help reduce the maladaptations mentioned by Erikson, such as withdrawal, compulsion, and overextension.

A secondary consideration is, that change can have long-term consequences. So changes implemented need to be carefully considered. Erikson’s theory of development differs from Levinson’s which postulates that the life cycle comprises a sequence of four eras, each lasting for approximately twenty-five years. ‘Erikson, too, saw development as a progression through stages, but differed from the others in his emphasis on the importance of interactions with society and in the extension of development into and through adult life.

His focus was on psycho-social transitions, with stages characterised by age-defined social tasks and crises involving features such as identity, intimacy and generativity. ’ (Rutter and Rutter 1992: 1-2). 1 There is a question over the universal application of stage theories. Much of the formation was undertaken within specific social context excluding the very minorities that need literacy practice the most. It would be important to avoid an over-reliance on the concept of predictable stages of development. Caution would also be needed with regard to an optimum end point to development such as maturity.

Humanistic psychology highlighted that choice, motivation and feelings were important to education. Mark Tennant notes, the concern with ‘self’ is ‘a hallmark of humanistic psychology’ (1997: 12). Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of motivation is a well known humanistic model but perhaps Carl Rogers provided a deeper examination of how a humanistic approach could facilitate learning. Rogers was famous for his person-centred form of therapy. He felt it was more effective if the client guided the direction of the therapeutic process rather than be led by the counsellor. If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use the relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur. ’ (Rogers 1961)2 By promoting the autonomy and self-direction of the adult learner they don’t become dependent. This can be done in the classroom by discussing rather than setting projects. An example of this would be… giving a group of 21 years olds the opportunity to decide what their own group project would be. Firstly, they would discuss what subjects they are interested in and then select a topic.

Subsequent to this, they divide themselves into groups and make a 15 minute presentation, using  mediums of their choice. This could be a combination of photography, drawing, powerpoint, writing, storytelling or role playing. ‘Self-directed learning is one of those foundation concepts in adult education which strengthen the identity as a distinct field of practice and inquiry. ’ (Tennent 1997 P. 7) There is also an elegant simplicity in Rogers philosophy of ‘simply to be myself and to let another person be himself. ’ Maintaining a mask can deplete energy, concentration and trust on both sides.

By dropping the mask, the effort can be focused on learning. A tutor could share one of their own learning difficulties with a student. By dispelling the notion of tutor as ‘all-knowing’ to a more realistic tutor as ‘human’, it is possible to soften the sometimes hard line between tutor and student, so often elicited in early school experiences. In this softening, both can experience a more comfortable place, in which to sit and engage. The tutor experiences less anxiety as he or she is not concerned with being ‘caught out’ by a student for not knowing something.

The student experiences less anxiety as he or she realise it’s ok to be human and make mistakes. With both parties being real, real learning can take place. Unless students feel safe to speak their mind and be heard progress in the relationship will never be made. Active listening is an important part of Rogers theory. Reflecting back illustrates to the student that the tutor has the ability to see where they are coming from and the sensitivity to assist them in their process of learning. [Students feel deeply appreciative] when they are simply understood – not evaluated, not judged, simply understood from their own point of view, not the teacher’s. ‘ (Rogers 1967 304-311). 3 The student can be encouraged to speak by the tutor, utilising attentive body language and words of encouragement. Demonstrating respect, as pointed out by Rogers and Farson can also be even more helpful ‘although it is most difficult to convince someone that you respect him by telling him so, you are much more likely to get this message across by really behaving that way…

Listening does this most effectively’. Congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard, are key features of Rogers’ approach. Unconditional positive regard is defined as accepting a person without negative judgment of a person’s basic worth. Rogers saw this as being key to the development of the self concept. If a student has been to jail, has a drug problem or is a single parent the tutor should not hold this against him or her. If nurtured in an environment where unconditional positive regard is present there is a greater opportunity for persons to fully actualise themselves.

As opposed to those familiar with conditions of worth laid down by others, they only feel worthy if they match conditions. Roger’s theory lacks the clarity of Erikson’s neat table of epigenetics. Its focus is on the relationship between tutor and student which is constantly evolving and not as easy to define. What it lacks in clarity it makes up for in bringing in warmth and as such provides a cosier  environment for learning to ensue. Rogers is also concerned with principles rather than stages. The combination of the two theories can enhance literacy practice.

According to Tennent and Pogson (1995) there are three basic aspects that a literary practitioner should consider; acknowledge the (life) experience of learners; establish an adult teacher-adult learner relationship; promote the autonomy and self-direction of the adult learner. The theories of Erikson and Rogers provide a framework in which this can happen. Adult learners vary greatly in their learning needs, aspirations and ability. Literacy practitioners can undoubtedly benefit from a greater understanding of theories of psychology and successfully apply them to Adult Education.

The cognitive, intellectual, social and emotional needs of the learner can be identified. Tutors can also apply the theories to themselves and improve their own learning and communication skills. By having a better understanding of themselves and their students a space can be created for effective learning to take place. Ralph Waldo Emerson commented that: ‘There is no teaching, until the pupil is brought into the same state or principle in which you are; a transfusion takes place; he is you, and you are he; there is a teaching; and by no unfriendly chance or bad company can he ever quite lose the benefit. 4 [word count 1,920] REFERENCES? ____________________________________________________________ __ 1 [Accessed online 11. 04. 10] http://www. infed. org/biblio/lifecourse_development. htm 2 Butler-Bowdon, Tom (2007). 50 Pyschological Classics, London, Nicolas ? Brealy Publishing. 3 [Accessed online 11. 04. 10] http://www. infed. org/thinkers/et-rogers. htm 4 [Accessed online 12. 04. 10] http://www. best-quotes-poems. com/teaching-quotes. html BIBLIOGRAPHY? ____________________________________________________________ __ Tennant, Mark (1997).

Psychology and adult learning, 2nd edition, London, Routledge. Rogers, Carl. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centered framework. in (Ed. ) S. Koch. Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social context. New York: McGraw Hill. 4 [Accessed online 12. 04. 10] http://webcache. googleusercontent. com/search? q=cache:Dc1TDKiM1A4J:www. cedu. niu. edu/~smith/Unpubs/Adult_ed_psyc. doc+impact+of+psychology+on+adult+education&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ie

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Psychology of Adult Learning. (2018, May 16). Retrieved from

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