Learning as Process
Adult learners desire full lives as individuals and citizens. To live rich fulfilling lives, learners must be responsible for participating actively in their own learning. To achieve transformation, learners first develop a growing sense of control over their own learning. Learners come to see themselves as creators and transformers of their existence rather than passive participants of it. They begin to see learning as a process in which they can become a part of and in control of. To encourage learners to be involved in personal and social change, learning activities and resources are real and relevant to their lives.
Learning outcomes and assessment take into account the learning process that helps learners become conscious of their ability to transform. Instructors assist learners in determining their authentic purpose(s) for learning, assist them to see learning as a process that must be meaningful to them, allow them to demonstrate new learning in relevant ways and, then, support them as they transfer learned skills to new situations.
Determine An Authentic Purpose for Learning
Setting a purpose for learning is important because purpose directs and focuses attention, maintains motivation to learn, and inspires new directions. We know that adult learners have diverse characteristics and needs, and we recognize that instruction must have a meaningful focus that meets the learners’ needs.
Recent American research (Equipped for the Future, 2000) indicates four general purposes that adult learners identified as reasons for returning to education:
In Saskatchewan, learners stated the following reasons for returning to Adult Basic Education programs.
In determining authentic purposes for learning, it is important to repeatedly illustrate the relevance and direct application of the knowledge and skills learned by the learners. Most adult learners have the desire and a real need to connect what they are doing in their “school activities” with what they will be doing in the “real world” or work environment.
Engage In The Process Of Learning
Language, thinking and learning are intimately connected. Because language plays a central role in learning, all subject areas must stress the role of language and its importance to learners’ expressions of their experience and knowledge in words, both written and spoken. Crowhurst (1994) states that “Knowledge is whole and should not be rigidly compartmentalized … into what is known from experience outside the classroom versus what is learned in school… Education needs to deal with learners as whole persons” (p. 14).
Helping learners acquire and integrate new knowledge requires close attention to the process of learning. Learners must be guided in relating the new knowledge to what they already know, in organizing that information, and in making it part of their long-term memory. Instructors can provide learners with steps, strategies, and/or processes to acquire new skills and knowledge. Making learning tasks relevant to a learner’s real life will enhance internalizing or practising the skill so it can later be performed outside the classroom.
Demonstrate Acquired Skills and Knowledge
Just as a learner must set a purpose for learning, an instructor must set a purpose when choosing and developing a particular assessment activity. The activity provides adult learners the opportunity to demonstrate acquired skills and knowledge in a variety of meaningful contexts. The demonstrations and resulting assessments of achievement can be as diverse as are the learners. Learners are actively involved in the assessment process through activities such as self-assessment, selection of written pieces to be placed in portfolios or in negotiating the “weight” a particular activity will have within the overall assessment plan.
Transfer Skills to Initiate Change
Mainstream education has traditionally applauded learners who learned to perform reading, writing, and computing skills. Transformative education does this and, in addition, encourages and supports learners’ personal and social change. Throughout the learning process, instructors strive to cultivate an environment, which affords learners opportunities to represent what they have come to know about a subject. Coming to know through contextualized learning directly influences an adult’s life. Learned knowledge can create realisations about personal and social justice issues.
Transformative instructors continually question and critically reflect on what and how they teach: Do I represent and endorse existing structures of oppression, alienation, and subordination by taking the authoritative role and only representing mainstream values? Do I allow my learners to question systems of dominance and provide them with the means to explore the treatment of poor, minority and gay and lesbian populations? The hidden curriculum is exposed in the transformative classroom. Instructors who support their learners’ personal and social change expose institutional and societal inequalities in a quest for a more democratic society.