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Joe Stuart's Learning Philosophy


     My thanks to the father of Adult Learning, Dr. Malcolm Knowles and to my hero and greatest educational leader and teacher, Dr. Dan Brown.  Thanks to what I learned at the knee of these two gentlemen, my focus as an educator and trainer, learning team leader and student of the learning discipline is on the adult learner.  I have never had and still have no interest in the developing mind of the adolescent.  On the other hand, I am fascinated with the variety of adult learners I have encountered and how they respond to the teaching/learning environment.  According to Knowles, successful adult learners are self-motivated and bring a variety of life experiences to the learning environment, be it formal and structured or totally informal. 


     Adult learners want to share their personal experiences but they also want an instructor to be very much the “sage on the stage”.  I need only to think about attending college classes through my 7 college degrees and the untold number of classes I have attended in the Air Force and civil service.  The overwhelming majority never considered any student as an adult.  I believe this is because teaching adults is hard, and it's so much easier to simply "tell" students rather than engage them as adults.  As an adult learner and practitioner, I have tried to not only be, but develop instructors who can be the "sage on the stage", but who are also willing and able to shift to being the “guide on the side”.  This simply means that while the instructor/teacher is capable of standing in front on students and telling them how much they know, the shift I have tried to perpetuate is the instructor/teacher who shifts roles to that of a personal tutor.  I don’t mean the kind of tutor that you might hire for your child who is struggling in algebra, but rather a tutor who can set up a student to do self-inquiry, self-learning and provide an environment to help the students motivate themselves to learn.  Adult learners gain knowledge and understanding in every setting, not only the classroom but also in social settings. They interact with peers and instructors in a structured setting but also with virtually everyone they come in contact with through a process of negotiation.  Adult learners interact with the broader intellectual community through thoughtful reading of texts and journals.  Each adult learner begins each learning event from an initial base of knowledge and experience.  All students work from this point to build a more meaningful understanding of the subject matter and to enhance their ability to ask questions and find answers.  They must learn how to deal with new situations, with tough problems and unknown answers, and to develop answers to those problems.  This is the hallmark of the adult learner according to Knowles.


  • Adult learners engage in the learning process by conducting a variety of behaviors.  They:

    • Recall any knowledge they have about the subject

    • Add what is learned to what is already known to expand and change their knowledge and values concerning the learned material

    • Evaluate any misconceptions and replace them with new information

    • Develop and evaluate any new ideas

    • Consider how the new information might change their understanding of concepts and principles

    • Ask themselves if the new information is of sufficient value to incorporate into their life


  • The ideal learning environment

    • The environment is free from distractions and is supportive to the needs of the learner

    • Adult learners are encouraged to participate as adults without fear of reprisal

    • Adult learners interacting with peers and instructors in which all students feel they can contribute

    • Ideas are illustrated and student interest engaged through demonstrations and experiments

    • An environment is created that fosters self-motivation among the students

    • A variety of types of learning activities are used to meet the wide range of student learning styles

    • Adult learners must develop a sense of accomplishment that their learning is of value


  • Responsibilities of instructors

    • Set expectations for the learning event

    • Explain learning objectives and methods to achieve the objectives

    • Prepare students by explaining unique lexicon

    • Validate knowledge brought by each student by use of a pretest

    • Create interest and generate curiosity through use of appropriate Attention, Motivation and Overview steps in the lesson

    • Act as a resource without directly answering every question

    • Provide constructive feedback to encourage development


  • Responsibilities of students

    • Be open to new concepts and principles

    • Appreciate the effort the instructor is putting forth to help you learn

    • Avoid premature judgment of themselves or others

    • Ask questions when topics are not clearly understood

    • Appreciate the contributions of fellow students

    • Be honest about their own understanding of the content

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