Adult Learning

Mature adult cognition is contextualized, with one foot in the abstract/conceptual and the other firmly in the concrete limitations of daily life. It is not handicapped by the signature adolescent demand that “it should be like…”. Living in, rather than denying, the strictures and complexities of the real world challenges us with frequent selection of a problem (often ill-defined, even contradictory) out of a multi-dimensional problem space. This is unfortunately a primary task that formal testing and traditional education do not prepare us for.

Selection or definition, followed by periodic re-definition, of a problem relates to Endsley’s Level-2 SA in its synthesizing of pattern from perceived elements and Level-3 SA in its projection of future actions. It is similarly reminiscent of several of Roscoe’s points (at the same link). In real life, there are frequently multiple ‘correct’ or variously satisfactory answers. This can be because they all lead to a similar-enough state, or because the simple fact of change is enough to unstick things.

As measures of adulthood, Tennant and Pogson1 wrote of the development of tolerance for contradiction and ambiguity. Similarly, in the domain of military decision making (where adulthood is essential), Schmitt and Klein2 wrote of tolerance of uncertainty. Both adult education and military training respect the importance of feedback, and/or incomplete/unreliable information. Tennant and Pogson wrote:

“Ambiguity, poor feedback, unclear problem boundaries, the vagaries of the relationships we have with others, and many other factors all combine to constitute the very loose framework of our adult experience of intelligent action in the everyday world.”ibid., p. 33

“Army Lt. Col. John Mowchan believes the United Statesis better served by not setting thresholds for response [to a cyber attack]. Maintaining ambiguity [italics added], he says, gives U.S. officials greater flexibility and keeps potential enemies guessing. He also cautions that, because the lines between various threat sources have increasingly blurred, deciding on the right response has become more problematic.” 3  Hedging is a primary tactic between individuals as between other entities.

By reading across the three areas, it can be seen that many major points of adult learning are shared with Situation Awareness and Naturalistic Decision Making.

[As an aside: you will find very different uses of the term “Adult Learning”. A very different use is at: .]

1 Tennant, M., & Pogson, P. (1995). Learning and Change in the Adult Years: A Developmental Perspective. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass.

2 Schmitt, J. F. M., USMCR, & Klein, G. A. (1996). Fighting in the fog: dealing with battlefield uncertainty. Marine Corps Gazette, 62-69.

3 Merzlak, P. (October, 2001). Editor’s Page. U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 4.

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