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Learning as an Adult

posted Sep 9, 2015, 3:36 AM by Wesley Akers   [ updated Sep 9, 2015, 3:37 AM ]
    My learning experience is ongoing as my previous attempts have been unsuccessful. For the past six months, I have trying to become literate in Spanish using Rosetta Stone. I have made two attempts to engage in the self-directed learning modules, but I have quit each time. With each failed attempt, I lost motivation to continue progressing through the tutorials. After reading the articles and reflecting on my experience, I think sustaining motivation and engaging in honest reflection with others are essential to mastery of new skills. 

    At the start of the learning process, enthusiasm plays a large part in engaging the learner and hopefully sustaining motivation adults need when the learning gets tough. My concern, however, is many adult learners quickly lose the initial enthusiasm of taking on a new challenge and succumb to the discomfort of failure. When I first bought the software, I was excited about taking on a new project and learning something new I can use in many parts of my life. I think many adult learners feel this initial excitement for learning but lose motivation once they get in the thick of it. Although I was experiencing burnout from the school year, I think I lost my motivation because I lost sight of my purpose. Upon reflection, my true motivation and purpose for learning Spanish is to be a better teacher for my students and their parents. I lost sight of my goal and gave into the external and internal factors that were bringing me down. Finding a solid purpose for learning is essential for adult learners’ success because it is an important motivator when trudging through their learning process. Purpose must be meaningful and personal to the learner in order for it to be truly motivating. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. 

    With a significant purpose, adult learners are also more willing to engage in trial and error. As an experienced learner, adults know it is difficult to master a new skill on the first try. Even when unsuccessful, I believe motivated adult learners are willing to jump back in the saddle and try again. Adult learners have a better understanding that learning a new skill is not impossible when enough effort is put forth. It seems the amount of effort required of adult learners is greater and requires more repetition. Adult learners must be able to sustain their motivation through the trial and error process, even when it means repeated failures. Personally, I have not given up on my goal to learn Spanish because I know I can do it. My optimism allows me to avoid belittling myself for giving up and pushes me to evaluate where I went wrong. 

    By evaluating successes and failures, I speculate adult learners are better able to make shifts in their learning in order to reach mastery. Successful adults learners will most likely evaluate how they were unsuccessful and make a plan to overcome their obstacles. When adult learners give up, I think it is a result of not knowing how to recover and move forward after a failure. Additionally, I wonder if unsuccessful adult learners seek out experts’ critiques of their skills. Unsuccessful adult learners seem to struggle to apply the suggestions of others because it deviates away from their self-directed plan. They do not have an optimistic outlook about their own learning process, which leads them to feel isolated and insecure. I have felt that way in my learning process and it is very uncomfortable. 

    After engaging in multiple unsuccessful attempts, I believe adult learners do become discouraged and begin questioning their intelligence or skills. These negative thoughts and feelings could lead an adult learner to isolation because they might be embarrassed to show others their lack of mastery. I think adults have a perception that everyone else already learned the skill and they are behind their peers in some way. Their unsuccessful attempts make them feel inferior to others. A pessimistic mentality can cloud an adult learner’s purpose and stunt their motivation to continue the learning process. With my two failed attempts, I experienced some of these feelings. Most of my students speak Spanish. When I tried to practice with them, I felt stupid because I made mistakes pronouncing words or conjugating verbs. My insecurity contributed to the decline in my motivation. Insecurity also caused me to disengage in practice with fluent speakers and avoid reflecting on the feedback I got from them. 

    As I reflect, I am realizing my insecurity and discomfort needs to be embraced because it is how I will overcome the obstacles causing me to quit. I believe the same is true for struggling adult learners. The discomfort of failure causes us to lose sight of our purpose. To embrace the discomfort, it is necessary to have others’ help. Before mastery can be achieved, all learners need to become comfortable accepting and processing constructive feedback. Without others’ feedback, adult leaners will find they fall back into the same patterns and routines that lead to their failure in previous attempts. Thinking about these ideas have lead me to the belief that adult learners need to be part of a purposeful, constructive, and reflective learning community. We cannot do it on our own and we need each other in order to reach our goals. With a meaningful purpose and constructive, supportive learning community, I feel adult learners can be successful in mastering new skills.