Tertiary teaching in New Zealand/Educational culture in New Zealand/How do people learn?

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Topic four

How do people learn?
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There have been many attempts to answer this question over the last 2000 years! An educational theory is just a model of how learning happens - but it must be based on experience and be able to withstand rigorous testing. Quite often, assumptions have been made about the following questions:

1. Does everybody learn in the same way?

2. Are all topics or skills learnt in the same way?

3. Does each person learn in the same way throughout his or her life?

4. Does learning occur in the same way in different contexts?

Quite obviously, one size does not fit all situations! The best way to approach learning theories is not to ask "which one is right?" but rather, "which theories might be helpful in this situation?" Perhaps the best teacher is the one that who asks at bedtime, "what have I learnt today?"

One of the most basic questions might be - do adults learn in the same way as children? For hundreds of years, educators have used the word "pedagogy" to describe what they do - but Malcolm Knowles pointed out in the '70s that a better word for adult education is "andragogy". Have a look at this good summary of the characteristics of adult learners.

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On successful completion of this section, you will be able to:
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the principles of adult learning and teaching and their application in the New Zealand context.