Adult learning

The Best Method for Adult Learning

Author: Allison Jonjak
Allison Jonjak

Children learn rapidly through absorption--through mimicry and immediate feedback--because, at first introduction, every concept is unknown. There is no possibility of "taking the easy way out" and not learning, when every door opens to reveal something new.

Adults who want to learn are challenged not only by potentially reduced neuroplasticity [1], but by the fact that there are so many worthwhile (or fun!) pursuits competing for our time that are easier than learning. In order to learn something new once we've reached adulthood

  • we need to be strong in our motivation
  • we need to learn within a framework that is
    • logical, and
    • rewarding
  • we need a mechanism for practicing that minimizes hurdles

Motivation

Since you searched for this article, you likely have your motivation close-at-hand. As your mastery of a topic deepens, you may gain motivation from "wondering what is around the next bend in the river," but in the beginning you need to be clear about your "why". You will need to repeat it to yourself often, and it might help to have visual reminders near the spaces you intend to practice. Since you came here with a motivation, I won't belabor the point--but your success will depend on how well your motivation converts to commitment.

Framework

The framework you choose to learn within can make your learning journey frustrating, insurmountable, and irrelevant--or rewarding, encouraging, and immediately useful.

A good framework is one that is both logical and rewarding. There are infinite possible logical frameworks for a sufficiently large body of knowledge. So how do you select the best one for learning? Here are my tips

  • check the scope. Your motivation will determine what scope you need. Maybe you want to learn a little bit of a language: you want develop good pronunciation habits and enough vocabulary to buy train tickets. Pimsleur--which focuses on present tense, first and second person conversation--is a good choice. If you want to become fluent, you will need more content--present, past, and future tense, and discussion of cases. Now a resource like CourseOfPolish.com, or a college textbook, becomes a good guide. Learning games like Duolingo are fine for adding vocabulary, but do not provide a good framework for helping a learner to speak.
  • check for consistent relevance. Memorizing lists is not a pleasant way of learning. In order to feel motivated to begin work each day, a learner needs consistent rewards. In the case of learning a language, this 'reward' can be gaining a new skill, or being able to express something you couldn't express yesterday. Someone learning dancing needs to be able to use the new technique in a dance to feel rewarded by it.
  • Each skill that you learn has a purpose--if it didn't, you wouldn't learn it. Keep that purpose in view to keep progress rewarding and meaningful. It is important that:
    • the first lesson presents something you can walk home and use ("today I learned the basic waltz step--turn on a song and I will do it!" "today I learned to say "this is a cat, 'to jest kot'!"")
    • each subsequent lesson takes advantage of the learning that has come before (in waltzing, you learn to transition from basic position to cape position, keeping the basic step. In Polish, you learn to say "I see this cat")

A rewarding framework organizes information such that each "lesson" is useful immediately upon learning. That is, the learner is only introduced to skills that they are ready for. Csikszentmihalyi [2] writes that, for an optimal experience, challenges must be matched to skill level.

When you are starting at level 0, "to jest kot," being told about challenges at level 15 "Można podejrzewać, że osadnicy ci, pochodząc z różnych stron i wzajemnie się mieszając, nie tylko nie byli skłonni pielęgnować folkloru miejscowego, ale też trudniej było im o pielęgnowanie folkloru miejsca pochodzenia." only causes anxiety. When you have learned conditionals and practiced them; when you have learned negations and practiced them; when you have learned past tense and practiced it; when you have learned the dative case and practiced it--then this sentence will be exciting for you to read and comprehend.

Dependency between challenges and skills
Dependency between challenges and skills [2]

Practice Mechanism

Finally we make it to the hardest-to-conquer aspect of learning. Your motivation is within you. There are good, prepared frameworks available for the topic you want to learn. And now you need to practice the skills you are learning.

Practice needs to happen daily or consistently, in small doses, incorporating the new skills you have learned. The most important element of a practice mechanism is that it is easy to begin each day. Having to carry your flashcards, having to re-set your password--any small transaction cost can derail your concentration and impede your learning. Quezer is an ideal tool for practicing because, once your box is set up, no hurdles appear between you and your practice.

The best practice mechanism:

  • minimizes hurdles. There is no "activation energy" required to start learning--just open your browser and practice. For dancing, keep your shoes handy and keep furniture out of the way of your dance space.
  • slight randomness within a predictable set. For practicing dancing, the fact that you're dancing with a partner guarantees this randomness. Unpredictability keeps the brain in a state of arousal--both preventing boredom, and preventing your rain from memorizing the order of the information--when what you really care about is the content of the information.
  • reinforces the most recent lessons presented by the framework. This capitalizes on your framework of good, progressive building blocks. As you learn new skills, incorporate them into your practice routine. Ideally, there are no hurdles in turning your new lesson into practice materials. (Creating a box on Quezer using your recent lesson on courseofpolish.com is a good example of this).

Remember Flow State principles, and take advantage of them, to learn as an adult. By having a strong motivation, a logical framework, and a hurdle-free practice mechanism, the act of learning will be rewarding. By creating a rewarding learning environment, you will meet your goals with success.

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