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Exploring the Issue in Evaluating Adult Learning Research Paper

Pages:8 (2390 words)



Topic:Adult Learner

Document Type:Research Paper



The problem facing students in college is that many of them are not being educated as adults. There is a significant difference in the way an adult approaches education and the way a child approaches education (Forrest & Peterson, 2006). Adult learning is an important concept because it focuses on realizing that adults are not children and so they should not be taught the same way. This is a crucial concept for teachers to understand so that they can be more impactful with adult learners. The problem for university students is that they are not being evaluated in a way that is conducive to adult learning. This problem is significant because university students may be unnecessarily and unfairly struggling with classes because university teachers fail to use evaluations that are conducive to adult learning. The research question this paper poses is this: What are some ways to evaluate adult learning? This paper will describe the literature on this subject, discuss it, analyze the findings and identify the implications for practice.

Literature Review

As Forrest and Peterson (2006) point out, adult learning theory posits that adult learners are self-motivated, capable of self-direction, have a wealth of experience that they can draw upon to facilitate the learning process, and are generally active learners. This means that adult learners learn in much different ways from children, who often require guidance and a lot of direction. Adults on the other hand are there to learn something that they do not know about and want to know more about. They know the reason they are there. Children typically do not know why they are there but just accept that they are there for a good reason. Forrest and Peterson (2006) state: “Underpinning andragogy are four assumptions regarding learning: a self-directing self-concept; use of experience; a readiness to learn; and a performance-centered orientation to learning” (p. 113). In other words, self-direction is only one aspect of it. Another one that is important is the idea of performance-centered learning—i.e., active learning. Active learning is what separates adult learners from child learners the most. When evaluating adult learners, the evaluation should be based on the concept of active learning (Forrest & Peterson, 2006).

The article by Hase and Kenyon (2000) describes why adult educators should move away from andragogy to heutagogy, following the recommendation of Knowles, who promoted the idea of self-directed learning, which is what heutagogy is. Based on whether or not the adult learners have sufficient access to materials to facilitate the learning process and sufficient time to learn on their own, the idea of moving towards Heutagogy can be a good one. Adults on the other hand are burdened by myriad cares and responsibilities. They are not going to have the same level of resiliency that children have. They are going to want to learn information as quickly as possible and if they cannot easily achieve it on their own, self-directed learning is going to be more of a problem than a boon.

Knowles (1984) identified four principles that should be applied to adult learning and that the teacher should consider when evaluating students who are being taught in the classroom:

1. Adults should be involved in the planning and evaluation of their own instruction.

2. Experience (including mistakes) should be viewed as an opportunity for providing the basis of learning activities.

3. Adult learners want to learn about subjects that they think will have immediate relevance and impact on their lives, whether from an educational point of view or a professional point of view.

4. Adult learning should be problem-centered instead of content-centered so that adult learners are more actively engaged in acquiring and applying the knowledge rather than simply trying to memorize information for a test (Knowles, 1984).

These principles provided from Knowles show that when it comes to teaching adults at the university level, the instructor should be considering how to evaluate adult learners in a way that is conducive to what the learners expect. They expect to be active learners and they expect to be taught relevant information. Thus, evaluations should incorporate both active learning and relevancy of material.

Moss and Van Duzer (1998) show that project-based learning is an appropriate way for instructors to evaluate adult learners. They define project-based learning as “an instructional approach that contextualizes learning by presenting learners with problems to solve or products to develop” (Moss & Van Duzer, 1998, p. 1). Project-based learning allows for individual and group learning, trust and relationship building (which is an aspect adults tend…

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…use of peer-evaluation gives the adult learner the opportunity to put the critical focus on other students and assist them in their growth and development. This helps to build important communication skills, too, that have a real world application that adult learners will appreciate.

Thus, instructors at the university-level should be considering alternative evaluation methods so as to be more appealing to and supportive of adult learners, who are not children and thus should not be taught in the same manner or evaluated in the same manner. Children require more direction and formality because they lack experience and prior knowledge and the maturity to hold themselves accountable. Adult learners possess all those traits that children lack and they are there because they want to be there—no one is forcing them to be in school at the college level. The instructor should recognize this as a favorable characteristic of adult learners and allow them to participate more fully in the evaluation process.

Implications for Practice

Approaching university students as adult learners will necessarily change the way instructors approach the evaluation process. It means there will be more focus on giving the adult learners the reigns, so to speak, for evaluating themselves and their peers. This would allow students to be more active and more equal participants in the assessment process. The use of a project-based evaluation method would also allow the adult-learner to be more engaged over the duration of the course with the material presented by the instructor.

The implications for practice are that the instructor would elevate the adult learner to a more equal footing and step back to allow the adult learners to take more control of their own learning processes. The teacher should not disappear completely but should be there to support rather than direct the learning process. Applying these findings, the instructor would change the learning environment so that it is more student-directed and the main outcome would be the project, which the instructor could evaluate with the help of the student and the student’s peers. So long as the adult learner is demonstrating accountability and active engagement in the classroom, the instructor should not insist on formal evaluations, like the multiple choice exam, as these are superficial in nature and test memorization skills more than…

Sample Source(s) Used


Fenwick, T. J., & Parsons, J. (2009). The art of evaluation: A resource for educators and trainers. Thompson Educational Publishing.

Forrest III, S. P., & Peterson, T. O. (2006). It's called andragogy. Academy of management learning & education, 5(1), 113-122.

Hase, S., & Kenyon, C. (2000). From andragogy to heutagogy. Ulti-BASE In-Site.

Howatt, W. A. (1999). Journaling to self-evaluation: A tool for adult learners. International Journal of Reality Therapy, 8(2), 32-34.

Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Moss, D., & Van Duzer, C. (1998). Project-Based Learning for Adult English Language Learners. ERIC Digest.

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