When Adults Learn

To be an adult we are expected to have an independent self-concept and can direct his or her learning, have accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning; had learning needs closely related to changing social roles; is problem-centered, and interested in immediate application of knowledge; and motivated to learn by internal rather than external factors (Merriam, 2001, p.5).

Adulthood is defined when the young transitions into financial and residential independence, assuming responsibilities like acquiring jobs and taking the role of becoming a parent. Because the density of life transitions experienced by young people makes it a sensitive developmental period, attention to this life stage is important (Shanahan, 2000). Culture shapes the adult and is influential in the social development in the stages of adulthood. 

Emerging adulthood from 18-29, is the peak of development by most people in their twenties in Westernized cultures ( UNH, 2021).  This age perhaps is the peak of the learning capacity of all adults. Most of the adults at this point have established some patterns of keeping themselves in good health and steady jobs. Adults have quite settled themselves in places where they see themselves thriving. Lifestyles and habits are in the “norms.” 

I was 21 when I entered college in the Philippines. Even though I did not get to major in the field I wanted, I still became a teacher. A part of our culture dictates that children are not separated from their parents until they get married. So even if I was already an adult, I still lived with my parents. This was the 1990’s, known for its pop culture and the rise of the internet in a radical era of communication, business, and entertainment(History.com,2021), but still, tradition-bound my life tightly like the strings of a violin. And this alone, evidently altered my decision on choosing my career. Although culture and the economy gravely affect our education and social behavior, emerging adults still have valid decisions in their lives because learning is constant and is varied. Choosing how we react to situations and our perception of the learning we receive is integral to our becoming mature adults. 

I believe we were already doing some of the practices in our daily communication and interaction with each other. However, it was not until George Siemens’ Connectivism Learning Theory was updated in 2005 and has been adopted by institutions of learning and has created the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) movement do we see the application of these principles in our lives. Of the eight principles of connectivism, there are three that as a teacher and adult are applicable in my profession; learning and knowledge rest in the diversity of opinions, nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning, and decision making itself is a learning process. Even as an adult, we continue to learn, mostly by our reaction and interpretation of the actions of others, then our judgment of what actions we will take based on the new knowledge. 

These connectivism principles correlate with the five assumptions of adult learning by Malcom Knowles(1980). Self-concept, adult learner experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation to learn personifies the principles of connectivism, that adults react, interpret, communicate, and make decisions based on the new knowledge they receive from their network. 

Marc Prensky, author of “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” it is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today‟s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. our students’ brains have physically changed – and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up. But whether or not this is true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed. The most useful designation for them – Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet. Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants.

Our education now has transcended the primitive days of my college years. Immeasurably, technology and the generation x of which I belong has very few connections. The world has gone digital and as an adult living in her middle adulthood, I must rise to the occasion and change my view of learning differently.


Arnett, J.J. (2014). Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties, Second Edition. Oxford University Press.

Prensky, M. 2001. Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon. MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5

Pappas, C. 2013.The Adult learning theory.Andragogy of Malcolm Knowles.eLearning Industry. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles

Stefanie Mollborn, Paula Fomby, Joshua A. Goode, Adenife Modile.A life-course framework for understanding digital technology use in the transition to adulthood.Advances in Life Course Research. Volume 47.2021 Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1040260820300629

Bee, H. & Bjorklund, B. 2000.The journey of adulthood.Fourth edition. Prentice-Hall New Jersey.Chapter 12. 

Utech, J. & Keller, D.2019.Becoming Relevant again: applying connectivism theory in today’s classrooms. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1219672.pdf  

Published by Anj delaPena

Mother.Teacher.Musician. In that order.

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