Emotions of the Adult Learner

This may sound like it is something relevant only to academic curriculum and settings. It’s not! Adults, whether in at work learning on the job, in professional learning, or in school, experience emotional fears.

Emotion is always difficult to quantify, yet must always be included in the context of studies involving motivation. As adult learners have completely different life scopes and challenges than the target audience of pedagogy, we continue to focus on andragogy as our source of knowledge for adult learning behaviors and subsequent emotional needs based on motivations. Teaching in the past has repeatedly sought to disengage from emotions. However, the adult learning process is seeing more power from the role of emotions being integrated with the learning. This learning process is the same that occurs in non-academic settings if facilitated correctly.

There is a strong division in how emotions do play as a role within the learning process where some say that emotions are merely a physiological response to the environment, while others say that emotions are social and change based on the individual context. Dirkx (2008) reviews these two viewpoints and presents the third emerging role of emotion as something that “represents both the experience of particular body states and our interpretation or construction of these states as mediated by socio-cultural processes” (p. 13, 2008). For example, our physical discomfort or pleasure is a manifestation of how we are feeling emotionally towards a situation. These three perspectives of the emotional role in education are evident in some variation, and will be a matter of debate and study for some time to come. However, it is important to consider that both experiential and transformative learning theories focus on the holistic approach for the adult learning that includes emotion, cognition, and experience.

The beauty of this educational recognition is that instructional designers, upper managers, and coaches can also apply this knowledge to the training of their employees. Channeling any type of curriculum or training to address the motivational inhibitors will be the key difference in the resulting investment, passion, and commitment from the student or employee.

Dirkx, C. (2008). The meaning and role of emotions in adult learning. In J. Dirkx (Ed.), Adult learning and the emotional self (pp. 7-18). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.

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