Self-awareness and self-direction are key in the adult learning process. 

Once their motivation has been established, they absorb information in a cognitive manner, and retain such information as a result of critical reflection.

I believe adult learning is a process, rather than an end product. 

The rationalization of what occurs while learning takes place is called a learning theory.  In my opinion, the humanist, cognitive, and critical reflection theories most accurately illustrate the adult learning process.   

The position of the Humanist is that a person has the capacity for self-awareness; that he has control over his behavior. The Humanist allows that a person has freedom of choice, self-determination and is responsible for his self-direction. 

Further, the Humanist’s position — free will — bases on the belief that these free will attributes mature or “actuate” in an upward direction, that this progression of personal growth, and upon reaching an optimum level, result in maturity and positive self-awareness.

In cognitive learning and development, the individual learns by listening, watching, touching, reading, or experiencing and then processing and remembering the information.

Cognitive adult learning might seem to be passive learning, because there is no motor movement.

However, the learner is quite active, in a cognitive way, in processing and remembering newly incoming information. 

Critical reflection is a process designed to promote the examination and interpretation of experience and the promotion of cognitive learning.

It is “a process by which service-learners think critically about their experiences,” of looking back on the implications of actions taken (good and bad), determining what has been gained, lost, or achieved, and connecting these conclusions to future actions and larger societal contexts.

Through reflection students analyze concepts, evaluate experiences, and form opinions. Critical reflection provides students with the opportunity to examine and question their beliefs, opinions, and values.

It involves observation, asking questions, and putting facts, ideas, and experiences together to derive new meaning.  The progression from the initial humanist drive, to cognitive learning and development, ending with critical reflection most accurately demonstrates the adult learning process.


In accordance with the Humanist learning theory, most adults are in continuing education courses to become self-actualized, mature, and autonomous. 

Even so, it is often the responsibility of the facilitator to tap into the motivation that will help the adult learning process to be successful.  

The best way to motivate adult learners is simply to enhance their reasons for enrolling and decrease the barriers. 

adult learningAs a facilitator of adult learning classes, I must learn why my students are enrolled (the motivators).  Next, I must plan my motivating strategies.  No one can motivate anyone to do anything, but facilitators can create circumstances in which adults motivate themselves. 

I will create such circumstances by setting a specific feeling or tone for the class, setting an appropriate level of concern, and setting an appropriate level of difficulty.

I will try to establish a friendly, open atmosphere that shows the participants I will help them learn.  Next, I will set an appropriate level of concern. 

The level of tension must be adjusted to meet the level of importance of the objective. If the material has a high level of importance, a higher level of tension/stress should be established in the class.

However, people learn best under low to moderate stress; if the stress is too high, it becomes a barrier to learning. 

Lastly, I will set an appropriate level of difficulty for the adult learning process. 

The degree of difficulty should be set high enough to challenge participants but not so high that they become frustrated by information overload. The instruction should predict and reward participation, culminating in success.

In order to cater to adults’ cognitive learning needs, I plan to actively involve participants in the adult learning process and serve as facilitators for them.

Specifically, I will get participants’ perspectives about what topics to cover and I will let them work on projects that reflect their interests.  I will allow participants to assume responsibility for presentations and group leadership. 

It is important that I act as a facilitator, guiding participants to their own knowledge rather than supplying them with facts.

Adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning something. Adult learning has to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities, to be of value to them.

Therefore, I plan to identify objectives for adult participants before the course begins. This means, also, that theories and concepts must be related to a setting familiar to participants. This need can be fulfilled by letting participants choose projects that reflect their own interests.

Effective critical reflection depends on appropriate contexts. The culture of my class community will be one in which adult learners feel included, respected, and safe.

Students are helped to feel respected and included in the class community through small groups in which they can exchange concerns, experiences, and expectations.  Additionally, the dialog between me and adult learners must be meaningful. 

Meaningful dialogue is facilitated by ensuring that topics and experiences are relevant to students and over which they have some control.

In an attempt to promote effective critical reflection in my class, all adult learners will be made to feel included, respected and safe. 

Planning and implementing motivating strategies, actively involving participants in the adult learning process, and creating opportunities for critical reflection are all essential in my efforts to apply the humanistic, cognitive, and critical reflection learning theories in my prospective classroom. 

Doing so will provide opportunities for adult learners to reach their potential.

Rebecca Friedman earned her M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership and Teaching the Adult Learner, and a post-Masters certificate in School Administration and Supervision from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education. Mrs. Friedman is currently a 5th grade teacher at Ohr Chadash Academy, a 3rd & 4th grade teacher at Beth Am Religious School, and an Adjunct Professor for Baltimore City Community College, all located in Baltimore, Maryland.

She has presented Professional Development workshops on using American Sign Language in the classroom at Hopkins, Beth Am, and Ohr Chadash.  She has also presented at the Baltimore Convention Center on this topic at the annual AIMS and MANSEF conferences during Fall of 2011. 

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