Adult Learning Theory and Problem Based Learning

Adult Learning Theory vs Problem Based Learning

Description of the learning theories:
Malcolm Knowles developed the Adult Learning Theory (Andragogy) in the early 1980s. He based his learning theory on 5 assumptions that adult learners bring experiences to the classroom and new learning can be built upon these experiences:

• A learner’s self – concept is self-directed and dependent
• Adult learner experiences increase as you age
• Learners need a readiness to learn
• Orientation to learning shifts from subject centered to problem centered
• The motivation to learn as we age becomes more internal

Problem based learning was developed by Dr. Howard Barrows in Canada at McMasters University Medical School and he theorized that learners can be given an open ended problem and build on knowledge by facilitated discovery. His theory states that learning is learner based and open ended. The learner, when presented with the problem, will self-direct their learning and apply the new knowledge to the current problem and future challenges encountered. Barrows believed the instructor is a facilitator and should only guide the process.

Why use these theories:
The adult learning theory says that adults need to know why something being taught, learning and instruction tasks need to be organized and active, instruction needs to account for wide background and experiences, and it needs to allow for discovery.

Problem based learning develops critical thinking skills, increases problem solving skills, increases motivation towards learning, and transfers to new situations.

Examples of application:
Adult learning theory depends on minimizing instruction and maximizing autonomy utilizing simulations, scenarios, and gamification. Instructional developers may find surveying learners to assess technical knowledge and skills prior to beginning instruction will allow them to adjust instruction accordingly. Adults according to Knowles need to know the why and when the instruction will help them with current challenges they face. Finally, lessons must be valid and have a focused reason for the activity to motivate them to learn; they have to apply the instruction to retain new material.

Problem based leaning has been successfully utilized in most fields. Researchers at Stanford have found a significant crossover of learning during Problem Based learning activities; for example students working through a history problem had to use math to calculate distance, rate, and time problems.

Compare to other learning theories:
Both theories of learning require the instructor to give up control in the classroom, this increases the development time of instruction, decreases the amount of material that may be covered, and instructors become facilitators or guides of learning.

Both models encourage learner centered learning and both use scaffolding to build towards stronger understanding of the desired material. Both learning models require the instructor to be a guide on the side not the sage on the stage.

Created by: Mark B.