Mind, Motivation, and Meaningful Learning: Strategies for Teaching Adult Learners

ACRL announces the publication of Mind, Motivation, and Meaningful Learning: Strategies for Teaching Adult Learners by Melissa L. Miller. The title is a guide to cultivating lifelong learning skills in adult learners for academic librarians, including a sample curriculum with lesson plans and assessments.

Learn more about Mind, Motivation, and Meaningful Learning in this excerpt from Chapter 1, ©Melissa L. Miller.

Adults are attending college in record numbers every year. The National Center for Education Statistics (Kena et al., NCES, 2016) reported increases in the traditional and nontraditional college-age population. Between 2000 and 2014, the traditional 18-to-24-year-old population increased from just over 27 million to nearly 32 million. The percentage of 18-to-24-year-olds enrolled in college was at 40 percent in 2014, compared to 35.5 percent in 2000. In 2014, there were approximately 12 million college students under age 25 and 8.2 million students 25 years old and older. With college enrollment on the rise for students of all ages, the highest growth rate is within the 25-to-34-year-old range. The number of nontraditional students in the 25-to-34-years age group has grown 52 percent from 1998 to 2012 and is projected to grow another 23 percent by 2023.

Additionally, the number of students who are 35 years old and over increased 24 percent between 1998 and 2012 and is projected to increase 17 percent between 2012 and 2023 (Hussar and Bailey, NCES, 2016). In 2016 the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found those in the 24-to-54-year age range in the United States ranked thirty-fourth for individuals with a postsecondary degree. In order for the United States to increase in rank, adult students, who are projected to increase by 1.9 million in postsecondary enrollment by 2021, must obtain a degree. Adult learners who experience academic success in higher education tend to gain economic and personal benefits, which may contribute to social, political, and economic benefits for the broader society (Ritt, 2008).

These students, once classified as nontraditional, many with families and careers, are emerging as the new face of today’s typical college student. They are often balancing multiple roles in life, such as caretakers, parents, spouses, and full-time employees, all with varying influences impacting their pursuit of a degree. Adult learners experience academic acculturation stress and challenges, which impact their academic success. Adult learning theories provide insight into how adults learn. They can be one of the tools that help academic teaching librarians be more effective in their instructional design and more responsive to the needs of the learners. When adult learners are provided with a positive learning experience based on the framework involving the six assumptions of andragogy, they are more likely to retain what they have learned and then apply it in various domains successfully.

Agency for Meaningful Learning—Academic Self-Regulation

Learning to Learn

Clark and Yates (2009) created a design of an instructional module for the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) training designers, developers, and instructors on how to incorporate key Learning to Learn (L2L) strategies in their training designs and lessons. Their design document was intended to give instructions to developers who will produce the materials and media for a formative evaluation of the course and its final production after a revision cycle. Their document also specified development activities. In that context a design was defined as a blueprint or a plan that could be tested and revised so that it could serve as an adequate guide for the finished development and media production of course materials and media to support a TRADOC training effort. Clark and Yates (2009) had a goal for their document to provide guidance to TRADOC designers, developers, and instructors who would be producing or implementing training for TRADOC programs. Their learning goal was to encourage TRADOC designers, developers, and instructors to learn how to incorporate key L2L strategies in their training designs and classroom activities for maximum learning effectiveness and efficiency. Clark and Yates (2009) explained their reasons for incorporating L2L strategies in training designs to enhance the study skills of soldiers and, by extension, of all adult learners. Students entering college or returning to college encounter a novel and challenging learning environment. When faced with learning and motivation difficulties, students will often rely on unreliable study and self-regulation strategies they developed in their K–12 education.

As a result, many students depend on their instructors and academic teaching librarians and have not developed effective self-management study skills and self-motivating strategies. Meeting this challenge required the design of training that incorporates instructional methods that guide and support students’ cognitive processes and, moreover, shift the responsibility for managing learning and motivation to the students by providing effective study skills and motivational training for those who need it. Students need to know how to study and how to be efficient and effective learners. The approach Clark and Yates (2009) described in their L2L document has been used to successfully support learners in a variety of courses. It was developed based on interviews and advice from adult learners and also based on research and evaluation studies. It was important that instructors provide training in all of the strategies suggested and avoid picking only a few since they work best when used together.

The curriculum design blueprint [in this book] expands upon the L2L program Clark and Yates (2009) created. Cognitive strategies such as self-assessment and motivation skills are incorporated, and a summative assessment, along with metacognitive strategies and skills, are embedded in the expansion. This curriculum is scalable to a variety of learning domains, including information literacy instruction sessions, higher education, and workplace settings. This curriculum will incorporate guidance to address the motivation component of andragogy, promoting relevance, value, and management of motivation.

Instructional Needs Assessment

An innovation-based model is used to determine the instructional need for this curriculum. It seeks to determine the need for new learning goals to meet changes in the learning environment (Smith & Ragan, 2005). Therefore, the three questions in Smith and Ragan’s innovation model were addressed to determine the changes and goals of the learning environment.

Determine the nature of the innovation or change. Has there been a change in the composition of the learner population?

Because student demographics continue to change in the educational arena across a variety of domains, there continues to be a need for new approaches to instruction and learning affecting all stakeholders.

The main driver for selecting the innovation model was the change in the composition of the learner population over the last two decades and the projected increase over the next five to ten years. This increase in adult learners signals a shift in the educational or training philosophy of not only institutions of higher education but also of employers and their approach to professional development training as well. The shift is aimed at how to teach or train adults and how adults achieve meaningful learning resulting in improved performance in any learning context. There are many reasons for adults to engage in learning including: going back to school to pursue a degree; professional development in the corporate sector; and training programs in the military, to list just a few. Therefore, changes in development and delivery of relevant andragogy would better assist in preparing adult learners to thrive in any learning context.

Academic Teaching Librarians Are Educators

Determine the learning goals that accompany this innovation. Does this significantly change what learners must understand, know, or do?

Neelen and Kirschner (2018) wrote about this shift in learning for adult learners and the impact it will have on training for employees in the workplace. They asserted that all employees will need to become effective learners who have the capacity to self-direct and self-regulate their own learning. The employees who are high-performing and high-capacity learners are situated in the minority rather than within the majority. To succeed at their current jobs and strive for new positions, employees must take on the responsibility of learning how to effectively and efficiently learn (Neelen and Kirschner, 2018). To be a skillful self-directed learner (SDL), you need to be able to determine your own learning needs, develop your own learning goals, identify your learning resources, and evaluate and apply appropriate learning strategies (Neelen and Kirschner, 2018; Brand-Gruwel, Kester, Kicken, & Kirschner, 2014).

Self-regulated learners (SRLs) are able to take a granular approach to specific learning tasks and execute and manage the steps in the learning process before, during, and after the task for more effective and meaningful learning (Neelen & Kirschner, 2018). Neelen & Kirschner (2017) asserted that, because the landscape of business and workplace practices is in a constant state of evolution, in order to be productive and competitive, employees must also continuously learn, improve, and adapt to economic, societal, and technological changes in order to remain relevant. Therefore, organizations need to provide a supportive environment that fosters self-directed learning for their employees. Rana, Ardichvili, and Poesello (2016) explored five practices aimed at supporting SDLs in a learning organization: building and communicating a shared vision to employees at all levels; fostering collaboration, interaction, and teamwork; empowering employees through participatory work processes; encouraging and providing opportunities for continuous learning; and using relevant technologies.

As companies seek to reinvent themselves to meet rapidly shifting technological demands, they need a transformative workforce that embraces the corporate-lattice approach (Benko & Anderson, 2010). Essential to lattice thinking is the principle that individuals actively own their development. A lattice approach supports lateral, diagonal, and both ascending and descending career moves and supports a variety of job training through courses, credentials, and certifications. Although lattices vary from company to company, they create a range of options for growth and development and foster a more inclusive workplace that makes learning opportunities available and relevant.

Determine whether these goals are appropriate and high priority in the learning system. Do these goals conflict with existing goals?

The goals of andragogy as outlined by Knowles (1984; 1989) are to develop individual, institutional, and societal growth. These goals seemingly do not conflict with those offering educational advancement for adult learners. However, educational stakeholders may question the value in critiquing or changing systems or the need to do so.

Curriculum Description and Purpose

The purpose of the curriculum is to provide academic librarians with the tools they need in order to teach adult learners to reflect on and develop a strategic plan for their own learning in any learning context. After completing the activities or units, learners will have the ability to identify, evaluate, and apply appropriate cognitive, learning, and motivation strategies based on course content and a deeper understanding of the metacognitive component of meaningful learning.

Curriculum Goal, Outcomes and Capstone Assessment

Academic librarians who complete this course will be able to design an information literacy session or workshop that will enable adult learners to reflect on and develop a strategic plan for their own learning. The capstone assessment for this course is a portfolio of reflection and learning artifacts that represent the outcomes.