Adult Learning vs. Child Learning

A major category of posts here will be on the topic of Adult Learning. This topic will underlie most others. There are different thoughts on this distinction. I want to start off being clear on the definitions that will be used here, and why this is important. These are unfortunate labels as they are misleading—the difference has nothing to do with age, though it has some connection to developmental level. People vary widely in what physical age developmental stages occur. We must keep our focus on the essential attribute even though the common label sends us astray.

“Child” learning tends to consist of defined problems where a particular “right” answer is desired. The great majority of our education nowadays is designed this way because it is easier to run in a factory-style setting, even if the students are physically adults. Easier is usually the keyword here. If learning, interaction and communication are kept in this modality, vital aspects of cognitive function will fail to develop for lack of exercise. They are probably not damaged, just lying latent, waiting on a call to action.

“Adult” learning also really has nothing to do with age. Adult learning starts with a problem-space in which the first action is to define a problem. Much of the play of children is actually of this type as they create games and scenarios of their own, turning a cardboard box into whatever they need at the moment. In the real world, two people producing two approaches are often actually solving two different problems. In a team situation, this can enrich the discussion and strengthen the efforts. In selecting between competing proposals such as construction projects, investment strategies or political elections, it can add enough to the demands of evaluation to just throw up the hands and pick something. In presenting competing proposals, it can lead to layers of glitter, pyrotechnics, back-room machinations and obfuscation as well as clear compare/contrast evaluations. Whether we lean toward clarity or not, these all enter the realm of tactic.

As listeners, we must practice skills of managing uncertainty and high consequence on-the-fly, or in current jargon “in real-time”.