New Urgency Around Adult Education

New Urgency Around Adult Education

Yeah!  We’re not the only ones on a mission.  EdSurge just launched a new blog series to raise awareness around young adult learning.  Alexander Russo offers an accessible synthesis of the big ideas and issues in his first entry, “New Urgency Around Adult Education.”

While Russo’s piece includes some terrific comments and links to resources, Mary Alice McCarthy of the New America Foundation is speaking our language when she suggests “content is under-developed” for adult learners.  Very true.

The assumptions instructors, publishers, designers, developers, etc. make in content development are all too often out of sync with what adults really need, want, or can handle.  We can’t take what we know about K-12 education and how those products and services are used or implemented and simply make them age-appropriate for adults.

Although it’s diminishing in our hyper-mediated world of smartphones, tablets, and gaming platforms, most young people demonstrate some tolerance for the factory-oriented models of our current educational system because we can’t yet offer them any scalable and accredited alternatives.  Adults, many of whom have already failed in or been failed by “factory schools,” have no desire to experience them again.  We need to completely re-think content for adult learners.

Adults have different needs.  They experience different pressures.  They tap different motivations to achieve their own and their employer’s goals.  They are often times not striving to realize some abstracted learning goal set forth by federal, state, or local policy makes and administrators.  They see training and education as a means to a better performance review, a higher paycheck, or a promotion.  The immediacy of “return on investment” for time spent learning can be palpable in an adult’s world.

We also need to think about creating learning content that is accessible and meaningful for adult learners today.  If not today, we need to provide a context and highlight a pathway for adult learners to get from Point A to Point B so they understand the relevance of what they’re learning to something at home or on the job.  A relevant learning experience activates a different kind of motivation.  Adults appreciate the rhyme and the reason for being asked to perform certain tasks

Content needs to be accessible where adults live, work, and play — especially where they work.  We can’t expect adults to drop everything and ship off to a big box training or convention center to become informed or enlightened.  Such dispatches are disruptive and costly, especially for adults who are juggling the responsibilities of family and kids on a limited income.  We need to take advantage of the rich learning experiences that can happen in the context of the workplace.

While schools are creating labs and settings for students to “experience” a job, whether its vocational or pre-professional (i.e., auto shop for future mechanics and wet labs for biology students), isn’t it funny that the typical adult training model is to pluck a worker from his job and force him to sit in a seat staring at a Powerpoint presentation?  Workplace-based training provides tremendous opportunities for hands-on practice, as well as a familiar setting for employees to learn alongside one another and develop collaborative skills.

Finally, we need to think about increasing accessibility to learning content through the powerful technologies in our purses and pockets.  Smartphones and tablets invite us to take advantage of rich online resources and social media in ways never before imagined.  We can explore learning experiences that are truly personal because they’ve customized for what we need or want to learn and ultimately adapt to our demonstrated strengths and weaknesses.

New media also provide great opportunities to re-calibrate instruction and deliver it in smaller, bite-sized — yes, snackable — modules.  We can break free of or redefine the “hour of instruction” that’s become standard given the realities of scheduling a class day or training retreat.  Think about what you do when you’re waiting for the bus or subway, standing in line for coffee, or finding five or 10 otherwise unusable minutes in between appointments and meetings.  Now imagine recovering all that time for a meaningful and engaging learning experience that was actually designed to be broken up the way you live your day.

Let’s move from content that’s under-developed to content that’s developed for life.