Adult User Education/Module 2

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Adult Education: Teaching and Learning


In this module we will start talking about teaching and learning for adults. We will discuss the psychology of learning and learning theories, motivating the adult learner, teaching and teaching theories, and how to effectively engage the adult learner. We will also have a little review over some ideas that will be important in creating instruction and programs of instruction for the adult learner: the reference interview, question analysis, and searching strategies. There are also a few samples of instruction segments for you to look over and get ideas from.

The Psychology of Learning

There are a variety of schools of thought on the psychology of learning. Our text will cover some of the basic theories such as the Behaviorist, Cognitive, and Humanist models. Along with these models is the idea of different styles of learning, which will help us understand that communicating information in different ways can be beneficial for different types of learners. In addition, the paper by Tisdell and Taylor discusses some different educational philosophies such a feminist and relational. Wang discusses some interesting and more popular sociocultural learning theories, and Ingram talks at some length about Malcolm Knowles theory of andragogy, which has become one of the most accepted theories in relation to adult learning.

Motivating the Adult Learner

The adult learner not only comes to learning with different expectations – as we saw in the last module – but also with a different physical maturity than that of younger students. The chapter from Wlodkowski discusses the physicality of learning in the brain, and how adult brains work differently than those of younger students. This is a fascinating and extremely helpful book, and I would highly recommend it to any of you who are going to be instructing and assisting adults on a regular basis.

Teaching the Adult Learner

Now that we have discovered who our learners are, what the different theories of learning suggest, and how to motivate adults in a learning environment, we will start looking at designing effective instruction. The chapter in our text gives four very different essays on teaching. Gold's article addresses ideas for engaging the adult learner and gives some excellent suggestions. In addition I have included several web resources that show a variety of different instruction plans on many different topics. Most of these are short, and while they are mainly designed for higher education, it is possible to adapt them slightly for the needs of the adult public library user.

I included the final article by McCaffrey, Parscal, and Riedel because this gives a really good overview of what goes into designing learning for the adult user. It goes through most everything you will need to know, from determining what topics you want to cover and doing a learner analysis, to implementation of the workshop, and then – one of the most important parts – evaluation of user learning through feedback.


In designing a learning segment, you will need to consider the needs and questions of your users in advance. Often you can use examples from personal experience, but when dealing with a topic that you have not personally come into contact with before, it may be necessary to do a little brainstorming. I am hoping that these short reviews might help refresh your memory and spark some ideas. The reference interview is often where we get our basic questions from the user, but we also need to try to dig deeper and see what they are really asking and what the actual need is. Question analysis will help with this, and the link provided gives a great overview of the different kinds of questions you can ask or consider. In addition, search strategies are often going to need to be tailored for not only user need, but user skill level. These three links on different search strategies give a good variety of different strategies you could consider.

Intents and Purposes

I have tried to select readings that will give a good overview of where we start when we are planning to create instruction. We need to know who we are teaching, and we covered some of that last module. But we also need to know how we plan to go about teaching, and knowledge of the variety of learning theories and models available will help us more firmly define not only our own chosen teaching style, but what methods might work best for different groups and situations. I thought that a short review of some concepts that we may not discuss every day – such as question analysis and search strategies – would be helpful, as well as possibly give some new ideas for designing and planning your instruction. Examples of how others teach are also always helpful since we can see what we like, what we don't like, and get ideas for what we might do differently.

The assignment for this module will have you design an instructional activity for a particular learning need. I am hoping that you will consider the kind of library that you plan to be working in, and determine an appropriate need that you may be presented with. The overall goal of this assignment is to have you do something that you will probably be doing again in your professional career. If you are in a public library, you may encounter many individuals who want to learn about genealogy research. In an academic library you may have students who need to find articles in a peer reviewed journal. Business and other professional libraries will have their own specific needs as well. Just try to choose a topic that you feel comfortable working with. You may want to consider instruction sessions that you have attended and what you enjoyed or did not enjoy about them. I have tried to structure the assignment clearly, but if you have any questions feel free to post them on the Q & A Discussion Forum so that we can all hear the questions and answers. We can also discuss this more via the discussion boards during the rest of the module.

Again, the last thing we will do is share our experiences on the Course Blog. I know that creating your first instructional activity from scratch may have been challenging, so let us know if you felt that way. Or, it may have been very rewarding to have the freedom and ability to control teaching on an area that you feel strongly about – we want to know that too! I look forward to discussing the ideas we are covering in this module with each of you as we work together in the next few weeks!

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