EDU 6600:Reflection on Theories of Adult Learning

We have had an opportunity to review a number of theories of adult learning up to this point in our course. Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to consider which of these theories align or contradict the practices which take place on my current campus.

Self-directed learning (SDL) has three goals according to Merriam (2001); “the development of the learner’s capacity to be self-directed”, “the fostering of transformational learning”, and “the promotion of emancipatory learning and social action.” (p. 9) SDL has a strong informal alignment with how things work at our building, but a still-developing formal alignment. By informal alignment, I mean that teachers are constantly using the Personal Responsibility Orientation (PRO) model of SDL, which states that human nature is “basically good . . . accepting responsibility for one’s own learning (Brockett and Hiemstra, 1991, p. 26) Teachers, on their own time and on their own recognizance, are constantly investigating new strategies and ideas to become better professionals, and then sharing their findings with others in the building. By formal alignment, I mean that there are some programs at our building that allow for SDL. Our formal professional growth and evaluation system includes a component where teachers work in a team and choose goals. These goals can require SDL by the team. In addition, our district-provided learning coaches, which our building administrators encourage us to use, can support individual teachers or groups of teachers in pursuing SDL.

Transformational learning (TL) is defined by Baumgartner (2001) as learning “which can occur gradually or from a sudden, powerful experience” and “changes the way people see themselves and their world” (p. 16) I think of TL as happening most powerfully for teachers at our building on a daily basis, while they are working at school, and realize that an approach they are using is not working for their students, or when they try a new approach and see powerful, unanticipated results. Another great way that TL occurs is when teachers have the opportunity to watch one of their peers teach and they see something happening that they never thought of themselves. Their viewpoint on how to approach instruction for a given situation might fundamentally change based on their observations of this other teacher’s efforts with students. More rarely, I have seen TL occur when a particularly adept and powerful speaker has, as part of a formal professional development (PD) session, shared ideas or data that has transformed a teacher’s thinking. The most recent example of this that comes to mind is some of the growth mindset PD that has occurred. Some teachers have had a “TL moment” based on this training, and many have implemented mini-lessons, whole units, and daily instructional strategies based on growth mindset theories.


Brockett, R. B., and Hiemstra, R. Self-Direction in Adult Learning: Perspectives on Theory,   Research, and Practice. London and New York: Routledge. 1991.
Baumgartner, Lisa (2001). Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory. New Directions For Adult And Continuing Education, (89), 15-24.

Merriam, S. B. (2001). Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory. New Directions For Adult And Continuing Education, (89), 3-13.


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