Creating Environments for Effective Adult Learning
Roger Hiemstra (Editor)
New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education
Number 50, Summer 1991
Ralph B. Brockett, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Alan B. Knox, University of Wisconsin, Madison, CONSULTING EDITOR
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NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION is part of the Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series and is published quarterly by Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, California 94104-1310 (publication number USPS 493-930). Second-class postage paid at San Francisco, California, and at additional mailing offices.
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Page 1 (page numbers as shown in the hard copy version of the book)
The word "environment" often is associated either with a physical setting or, more recently, with the multiple ecosystems in which we live. When "learning" is associated with "environment," various meanings are conjured up in the minds of adult educators, such as the learning climate, the physical environment, the psychological or emotional climate, and the social setting. This volume, Environments for Effective Adult Learning, presents various ways of thinking about the learning environment in order to enhance the effectiveness of adult teaching and learning processes.
In the following chapters, ten professionals in adult and continuing education present their views about various aspects of effective learning environments. Conceptual analyses, personal experiences in these environments, and reviews of relevant literature are provided. Some of the authors challenge long-held views and practices in ways that may cause discomfort to adherents of conventional wisdom. However, this dissent is offered in the spirit of helping all adult educators change and grow in their efforts to become more effective practitioners. Whenever possible, the authors provide exhibits with checklists that the adult educator can use to examine or guide personal practice.
An appropriate criticism of some of the practical aspects of this volume might be their "positivist" nature. The inclusion of practical experience, models, and checklists is not intended to establish monological certainty of their value. It is my hope that these materials and chapters are not read once and then shelved and forgotten. I want readers to be involved with the information presented and to examine, criticize, and reconstruct it through critical reflections.
In Chapter One, I explore the various meanings of learning environments, describe some associated literature, and provide an organizing framework for the chapters included in this volume. I introduce three broad categories for thinking about learning environments: physical aspects, psychological-emotional aspects, and sociocultural aspects.
In the first of two consecutive chapters related primarily to physical settings, Rodney D. Fulton, in Chapter Two, initiates the difficult process of building a conceptual model for understanding relationships between various components of the physical environment and learner attributes: satisfaction, participation, achievement, transcendent/immanent attributes, authority, and layout (SPATIAL). He challenges readers to examine the SPATIAL model and add to the list of associated questions that he has developed.
Richard S. Vosko, a designer and independent consultant for worship environments, is concerned in Chapter Three that the way physical environments are arranged or manipulated can affect learning experiences.
Referring to himself as a space specialist, he argues that adult educators must become aware of how people use space and urges educators to conduct space "audits."
In an effort to bridge physical settings and learners' personal needs, Judith K. DeJoy, in Chapter Four, describes how microcomputer technology can be incorporated into adult learning environments. She urges adult educators to consider learners' emotions, perceptions, and self-concepts when thinking about instructional design and delivery issues associated with the use of microcomputers. She lists numerous questions to guide adult educators in such thinking.
In Chapter Five, Burton R. Sisco discusses the importance of the first encounter between adult learners and their instructors in terms of establishing positive emotional, psychological, and social settings for subsequent learning. He describes various ways of building an effective climate for learning, including creating trust, developing a positive learning environment, and promoting mutually supportive relationships among learners. He, too, provides a checklist of questions to guide instructors in thinking about the first few hours spent with adult learners.
V. L. Mike Mahoney, in Chapter Six, is concerned about the personal history that each individual brings to the learning setting. Family, job, community, and health problems can create emotional or psychological barriers to learning. He presents four vignettes about real learners with real "baggage" that impeded their learning. Using the metaphor of temperature changes on a thermometer, he creates a device for measuring the relative impact on a person of various life events and suggests what a teacher can do to help learners make appropriate adjustments to overcome impediments to learning.
Chapters Seven and Eight focus on two important social and cultural issues with which many adult educators need to grapple: the impact of race and of gender on the learning environment. In some ways, the placement of these two chapters within the topical area of sociocultural aspects of the learning environment is too confining. A person's views of race and gender usually are subjective in nature, existing in the eyes of the beholder, and therefore could be considered psychological or even philosophical in nature. However, my intent in including these two chapters is to facilitate critical thinking about two troublesome social and cultural issues that have not been resolved in the United States or elsewhere.
Scipio A. J. Colin III and Trudie Kibbe Preciphs open Chapter Seven with a quote by William E. B. Dubois who accurately forecasted, almost ninety years ago, that the problem of the color-line would be the problem of this century. Colin and Preciphs suggest that adult educators do not overtly confront racism but instead focus on safe or nonthreatening issues such as low socioeconomic status, motivation, and participation. Their chapter is written to challenge readers, especially white adult educators, to
dig deep inside themselves for self-reflection and commitment to positive social change.
Chapter Eight on women, gender, and the learning environment, by Susan Collard and Joyce Stalker, is equally as challenging to the "safer" stances taken on a day-to-day basis by many adult educators. The authors assert that various social and cultural understandings associated with gender differences are related to oppression and exploitation. They describe how the adult education field has historically been dominated by males, a situation that has disempowered women in various ways. They urge educators to make a new commitment to women learners.
In Chapter Nine, Rodney D. Fulton and I provide an annotation of various books, book chapters, monographs, and journal articles related either in general to aspects of the learning environment or to specific ideas presented in the other chapters of this volume. In the final chapter, I summarize and synthesize various themes from the previous chapters. I also provide some suggestions on the kinds of research needed to continue the development of information about effective learning environments.
Roger Hiemstra was professor of adult education and chair of the adult education graduate program at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, until 1996. Currently he is professor and chair of adult education at Elmira College, Elmira, New York. He is the author or co-author of numerous publications and books, such as Individualizing Instruction: Making Learning Personal, Empowering, and Successful (1990, with Burton R. Sisco) (available on-line), Self-Direction in Adult learning: Perspectives on Theory, Research, and Practice (1991, with Ralph G. Brockett) (available on-line), and The Educative Community: Linking the Community, Education,and Family (1993) (available on-line).
-- Return to Roger Hiemstra's opening page
-- Return to the Creating Environments for Effective Adult Learning Contents page
-- Go to Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten, or The Index.