Principles of Adult Learning

The blog Tutors of Literacy in the Commonwealth (that is, Pennsylvania) is a salad bar of links to sites and publications of greater and lesser usefulness.

Last November, for example, Kim Rossman, the Executive Director over there, posted "Books for Low Level Adult Readers" about the Junkyard Dan series from Nox Press. I hadn't heard of these: now I have. This spring, I'll order a set from their website,

More recently, she pointed me at Senior Technical Writer Stephen Lieb's "Principles of Adult Learning" from 1991. I found this less encouraging. Lieb starts off strong with Malcolm Knowles (though he calls him Malcom). Then things go downhill pretty fast. Just compare this mind-set:

Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They need to be free to direct themselves. ...[A]dults should be treated as equals in experience and knowledge....

with this mind-set:
Reinforcement is a very necessary part of the teaching/learning process; through it, instructors encourage correct modes of behavior and performance.

The former is about sharing information and supporting adult attempts to build skills. The latter is about raising kids or dogs or something.

What's interesting, in both cases (the Commonwealth site and Lieb's list[s]) is the lack of any apparent unitary philosophy of learning. There's no framework to bound the discussion or direct reflective readers toward greater quality.

In the case of the Commonwealth blog, that's a virtue. Ms. Rossman shows every sign of treating her readers like adult learners who are "free to direct themselves." Thanks for that. I'll be coming back.

Mr. Lieb's piece, part of the teaching tips section of the faculty development page(s) at the Honolulu Community College, is less... respectful. It seems full of thou shall and thou shall not.... Um, thanks for that, too. I guess. Maybe I'll just go down to the beach for a minute, Steve. You go ahead and start without me....


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