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Who is responsible for learning? Macleod believes that in adult education the onus of is on the learner to learn, but the instructor/facilitator also has a role to play; both the learner and the instructor have key roles to play to ensure a meaningful lea

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Undergraduate Coursework Accountability Statement

TITLE:                         Adults as Learners

ASSIGNMENT:                Who is responsible for learning?

  1. I hereby certify that I am the author of the attached item of coursework and that all materials from reference sources have been properly acknowledged.
  2.  I understand what plagiarism is and what penalties may be imposed on students found guilty of plagiarism.
  3.  I certify that this paper contains no plagiarised material.
  4. I certify that this is my own work and that I did not receive any unfair assistance from others (including unauthorized collaboration) in its preparation.
  5. I certify that this paper has not previously been submitted either in its entirety or in part within the UWI system or to any other educational institution.
  6.  In the case of group work:

a. I certify that the individual work of each member of the group has been clearly


b. that where no such indication has been given, I take the responsibility for the work as

    if it were the section of the paper for which I am solely responsible; and

c. that I have not collaborated with any members of the group to breach the University’s


“I am firmly convinced that in an adult-education institution the learners are ultimately responsible for their own learning and my responsibility as their faculty member is to facilitate and support them by creating a learning environment that will allow them to be successful at learning, based on their individual learning styles and personal definitions of success.” wrote Macleod (2006).  Macleod believes that in adult education the onus of is on the learner to learn, but the instructor/facilitator also has a role to play; both the learner and the instructor have key roles to play to ensure a meaningful learning experience.

Adults learn in a different ways as opposed to children. This is so for a number of reasons; adults are independent and self-directed, adults are goal oriented, adults are relevancy oriented, adults are practical problem-solvers and adults have already built up life experiences. Adults usually have specific reasons for wanting to learn, such as; self-development, to improve earning power, to gain a specific skill or for recreation.

Andragogy, a theory put forward by Malcolm Knowles, declares that adults learn in a different way from children. “Andragogy assumes that the point at which an individual achieves a concept of self and essential self-direction is the point at which he psychologically becomes an adult.”  (Knowles, 1978 cited in Atherton, 2010). This theory of andragogy is specifically for adult learning and makes the following conjectures; adults need to recognize why they need to learn something, adults need to learn experientially, adults view learning as problem solving and adults learn best when the focus is of immediate significance. The formulation of the main beliefs of andragogy by Knowles may seem to incorporate the views of other learning theorists.

In adult education, there are various theoretical frameworks about how learning takes place and that point to whether the responsibility for learning lies with the educator or the learner. These theories are principles promoted by psychologists and educators to elucidate how people gain skills, knowledge and attitudes. Various features of theoretical frameworks are used in educational programmes to improve and hasten learning.  

One such theoretical framework is that of cognitivism. Good & Brophy (1990) states, “Cognitive theorists view learning as involving the acquisition or reorganization of the cognitive structures through which humans process and store information.” (p. 187).  Cognitivists look into how human memory works to encourage learning and the processes by which people comprehend and store information. This theory puts forward that learning takes place through the effort of the learner.

Robert M. Gagne, a cognitivist, makes a distinction between internal and external conditions. Internal conditions can be expressed as ‘states’ and include motivation, attention and recall. The external conditions can be considered as factors surrounding one’s behaviour and comprise understanding and timing of stimulus events. Central to his views on the conditions of learning is that instruction must be designed specifically in the context of the learner’s needs. Instruction should be designed to include a variety of instructional methods in order to meet the needs of different learners. (Gagne 1985)

Gagne’s theory, in line with his cognitivist beliefs, that the responsibility for learning lie with the learner, but he also points out that instruction has to be designed in such a way to suit the learner’s needs. Therefore, the educator also has a role to play for the learner to use cognitive processes such as inputting, organizing, storing and retrieving information.

Another theoretical framework is that of behaviourism. This theory measures observable behaviours that are produced by a learner’s response to stimuli. Behaviourists believe that what one learns is influenced by the environment instead of the student. The theory puts forward that learning is manifested by a change in behaviour, that the environment shape behaviour and the principles of contiguity and reinforcement are vital to the elucidation of the learning process.

 B. F. Skinner is a behaviourist who believes that learning is a function of change evident in behaviour and that changes in behaviour are the result of a person’s response to events that take place in the environment. His theory of operant conditioning state that, “When a particular Stimulus – Response (S-R) pattern is reinforced/rewarded, the individual is conditioned to respond.” (Markle 1969). Reinforcement is the key aspect in this theory as the reinforcer is anything that fortifies the required response.

As behaviourists believe that learning is a product of the environment; Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning place the onus for learning on the educator. Fundamentally, the educator has to reinforce and reward to achieve the desired outcome (learning). To have learned, there needs to be a recognizable change in behaviour on the part of the learner.

There is also the constructivist theoretical framework where learners incorporate and create new knowledge based on past experiences. This theory is student-centered and promotes high level processing skills to apply to their working knowledge. Instruction based on this theory is based on learner’s prior knowledge which allows them to carry out cognitive functions. Papert (1993) as was cited in Cain etal said, “I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge.”

Jack Mezirow’s theory of perspective transformation is described by him as constructivist. It outlines the views that the way learners interpret and reinterpret their sense experience is central to making meaning and hence learning. (Mezirow 1991). This theory explains a practice that directs the learner to re-evaluate past beliefs and experiences which had previously been understood within assumptions derived by others. This is basically a modification in the approach of one’s view of life and entail becoming more reflective, critical and accepting of new ideas.

In transformative learning the educator needs to create an environment that facilitates development of responsive relationships among learners, and learners also have a responsibility in creating the learning environment and keeping an open mind. Both the educator and learner have very important roles for effective learning according to this theory, but it is imperative that the learner be responsive within the learning environment.

Next is the theoretical framework of humanism. This tends to be value-driven. Humanists believe people have a natural desire to learn, they maintain that learners have to be allowed to have control over the learning process. As a result of, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator.

Paulo Freire views on learning falls under the humanist theory. He believes that knowledge is not a standard product that passes from teacher to student. Students must create knowledge from what they already have. Learning is a process where knowledge is presented to us, then shaped through understanding, discussion and reflection. (Freire 1998). In Freire’s approach to learning he states that reflection and action (he calls this combination praxis) are integral in the learning process.

Freire views state that ‘students must create knowledge from what they already have’. As a result, a lot of learning will come from their prior knowledge or experiences. Here the responsibility of learning points to the learner.

There are a number of other theorists with differing views of what learning is and how learning takes place. But what is learning? Burns (1995) as cited in Dunn (2002), “conceives of learning as a relatively permanent change in behaviour with behaviour including both observable activity and internal processes such as thinking, attitudes and emotions.” He also believes that learning might not be noticeable in observable behaviour until sometime after teaching has been carried out. Another definition of learning states “learning is the act or process by which behavioural change, skills, knowledge or attitudes are acquired.”(Boyd, Apps etal., p 100 – 101).

The common factor of both definitions is that learning involves change. The definition by Burns (1995) implies that for learning to have taken place there needs to be some form of ‘obvious’ ‘behaviour change’. But although Boyd, Apps etal say learning involves a behavioural change, but it is also the acquisition of skills, knowledge or attitudes. For students to learn, they need to react and respond whether outwardlyly or inwardly, psychologically, or academically. However if learning is a process of changing behaviour, obviously that process must be an active one.

Kolb (1984) developed a learning theory with the view that learning is a result of active involvement in everyday life; this is known as experiential learning. He developed the experiential learning model to provide insight into how the learning process works. This model a cycle and is made up of four elements; concrete experience, observation of and reflection of that experience, formation of abstract concepts based on reflection and testing new concepts; the cycle is then repeated.(Appendix II).

Jarvis (1987) developed a learning theory about the process of learning through social experiences. This model gives an understanding of how learning occurs and makes clear the practical element of the learning process. (Appendix III).  In this learning process model he points out that experience as a learning process need to be consider by adults along with reflective action. Jarvis set out nine responses for potential learning experiences which are classified into three levels. Level one is the Non- learning, and as the name suggests no learning takes place at this level; it involves presumption, non-consideration and rejection. Level two is Non-reflective learning and here a small amount of learning taking place; it involves pre-conscious, practice and memorization. And level three is Reflective learning where choices are made based on learning; it involves contemplation, reflective practice and experiential learning. (See Apendix IV)

There are many views to articulate how learning occurs and whose responsibility it is for learning to take place. What is evident in the learning theories is that both the educator and learner have roles to play and to achieve the desired outcome of learning both are important. As people learn in different ways it is vital that the educator uses a variety of methods in instruction. Although adults are responsible for their learning in the sense that they made a decision to enrol in an adult education programme; it is the educators responsibility to organize instruction and content to suit the needs of the learner.


Atherton J. S. (2010) Learning and Teaching; Knowles' Andragogy: an angle on adult learning.        Retrieved on        July 23, 2010 from        http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/knowlesa.htm

Cain, J. etal. (2010). Constructivism Learning Theory. Retrieved on July 13, 2010 from        https://www.msu.edu/~purcelll/greenbeanersindex.htm

Dunn, L. (June 2002). Theories of Learning. Retrieved on July 19, 2010 from        http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsd/2_learntch/briefing_papers/learning_theories.pdf

Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as Cultural Workers - Letters to Those Who Dare Teach.  

Westview Press: Boulder, Colorado

Gagne, R.M. (1985). The Conditions of Learning and Theory of Instruction.

 C.B.S. College Publishing: New York

Good, T. L., Brophy, J. E. (1990). Educational psychology: A realistic approach. (4th ed.).

Longman: White Plains, New York

Jarvis, P. (no date). Peter Jarvis Staff Profile. Retrieved on July 6, 2010 from        http://www.surrey.ac.uk/politics/profiles/jarvis.htm.

Knowles, M. S. etal. (2005). Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human        Resource Development. (6th ed.). Elsevier Inc: San Diego, California

Macleod, I. (August 2006). Who is responsible for learning? Retrieved on July 19, 2010 from        http://eduspaces.net/hondomac/weblog/128142.html

Markle, S. (1969). Good Frames and Bad (2nd ed.).  Wiley: New York

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. Jossey-Bass:

San Francisco, Califonia

Appendix I

Four Theoretical Frameworks of Learning





Social and situational (Constructivist)

Learning theorists

Thorndike, Pavlov, Watson, Guthrie, Hull, Tolman, Skinner

Koffka, Kohler, Lewin, Piaget, Ausubel, Bruner, Gagne

Maslow, Rogers

Bandura, Lave and Wenger, Salomon

View of the learning process

Change in behaviour

Internal mental process (including insight, information processing, memory, perception

A personal act to fulfil potential.

Interaction /observation in social contexts. Movement from the periphery to the centre of a community of practice

Locus of learning

Stimuli in external environment

Internal cognitive structuring

Affective and cognitive needs

Learning is in relationship between people and environment.

Purpose in education

Produce behavioural change in desired direction

Develop capacity and skills to learn better

Become self-actualized, autonomous

Full participation in communities of practice and utilization of resources

Educator's role

Arranges environment to elicit desired response

Structures content of learning activity

Facilitates development of the whole person

Works to establish communities of practice in which conversation and participation can occur.

Manifestations in adult learning

Behavioural objectives

Competency -based education

Skill development and training

Cognitive development

Intelligence, learning and memory as function of age

Learning how to learn


Self-directed learning


Social participation



Merriam and Caffarella 1991: 138

Appendix II

Kolb’s Learning Cycle Model


Clara Davies – University of Leeds


Appendix III

Jarvis’s Learning Cycle Model


Slideshare.net (http://www.slideshare.net/rrddam/jarvis-learning-process-theory)

Appendix IV

Jarvis’s Learning Process

Level One: Non-learning

In the first three routs or choices of the nine routs no learning takes place:

1) Presumption people react through mechanical response (like saying hello) or a presumption that what has previously worked will work again.

2) Non-consideration when a person does not respond to a potential learning situation.

3) Rejection when a person consciously chose to reject the opportunity to learn.

Level Two: Non-reflective learning

The second three routs of the nine include a small amount of learning occurring for the individual:

4) Pre-conscious when having experiences in daily living that are not really thought about.

5) Practice when a person practices a new skill until it is learned. An example would be training for a particular physical skill or the acquisition of a language.

6) Memorization when acquiring presented information the learner learns the information so it can be reproduced at a later time.

Level Three: Reflective learning

The final three routs of the nine considered choices of reflective learning.

7) Contemplation when a person thinks about what is being learned.

8) Reflective practice when there is reflection prior to an action and during the action. An example would be problem solving.

9) Experiential learning when there is actual experimenting on one’s environment. It is postulated this might be the way to learn pragmatic knowledge.

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