A quick look at how adults can develop new knowledge
When was the last time you learnt something new? Why did you have to learn it? What was that experience like? Did you find it daunting or exciting? Tedious or fun? Did you have to learn it by yourself or with other people?
We all experience learning in different ways. Some people find learning new things exciting, while others find it tedious and stressful. For the latter, it could be due to anything from the thought of going through the learning process to engaging in the process. If you have ever tried to learn something you previously didn’t have much knowledge of or time for, chances are you know what I am talking about.
Some people think that they can only learn so much or that they can’t broaden their knowledge base. Some people are even consciously or unconsciously unwilling to learn new things for whatever reason. You might know someone like that or maybe you are such a person. You could even be excellent in certain areas but sceptical of learning about other areas you lack adequate knowledge of but might be interested in.
Many adults tend to settle into comfortable patterns and take fewer risks when it comes to learning new things except they are compelled to. Even worse, many don’t seek to learn anything and one day, they wake up and find out that they don’t know anything. One good reason could be that the issues of life often get in the way so we tend to think in one direction.
Over the years, I have noticed that some people rarely try to expose themselves to new knowledge so they can have a broader worldview. Ask the average person and if it isn’t putting money into their pocket in some way, then they would say that there is no point.
Learning should be a lifelong process and everyone can learn almost anything given the right circumstances that support the learning process. Understanding how adults learn is very important and many researchers have identified various factors which are key to the learning process:
- Adults learn when they have a reason to learn
Once we understand why it is important to learn something or we have a definite need to acquire the specific knowledge then it’s easier for us to learn. This is what is called “just in time” learning. For example, if I was gunning for a promotion at work and I realised that I needed to have a certain skill to be considered for that promotion, I would most likely be motivated to learn the skill. I would be learning the skill not necessarily for the love of it but because I recognise its usefulness in a potential new role I could be considered for.
- Adults learn when they understand how they learn best
It’s easier to learn new things once you discover how you have become accustomed to learning. There are 3 popular learning styles; visual, auditory, and tactile, and we either prefer one style or a combination of some or all of the styles.
a. Visual learning style: you learn by looking at pictures, graphs, charts, etc. You probably like to scribble, take notes, or draw, even creating mental scenarios. You need to be able to visualise what you are learning. If you find yourself often saying “I see…” in response to learning something new, you’re probably a visual learner.
b. Auditory learning style: you learn by listening and are comfortable with hearing and participating in discussions. You attach a lot of importance to what is said and how it is said. If you find yourself often saying “I like how this sounds….” in response to learning something new, you’re probably an auditory learner.
c. Tactile learning style: you learn by physically doing things, so you always want to try things out for yourself. As you learn, you are probably going through the process in your mind and already practising. If you find yourself often saying “I feel you….” in response to learning something new, you’re probably a tactile learner.
As earlier stated, many people however learn through a combination of all these learning styles but the key thing is to discover your learning style: what works best for you?
I learn best using a combination of all 3. I remember once I made up my mind about learning to swim. I would read articles and watch YouTube videos about swimming. I would visualise myself in the pool, think about how the water would feel on my skin or whether I would gulp some water while trying to hold my breath underwater. It made it a lot easier for me to prep myself before classes and learn all I had to do. I would take note of the instructor’s instructions and constantly ask questions. It was like experiencing the swimming process before actually getting into the pool.
- Adults learn when they need the knowledge
It is easier for an adult to learn something new at the time that knowledge is required or just before it is needed. Deciding to commit to the learning process is critical and it is usually fueled by a need for the required knowledge. In school, we learnt a lot of things we may not have needed at the time to prepare us for when we needed the information. As adults, we usually don’t learn things randomly, we learn them when we need them.
I have a friend who didn’t learn to drive until he got a car. I remember telling him to go to driving school to prepare but he never listened. But when he got his car, the motivation to learn appeared. He never did go to driving school though as he decided to teach himself how to drive using his car. Don’t ask me about the number of accidents and incidents that he had though!
- Adults learn when they are in the right frame of mind to learn
This is one of the most important factors as the learning process should be positive and encouraging. If you want to successfully learn as an adult, you have to be your own cheerleader. You must find ways of encouraging yourself, whether by learning together with other people who are also committed to learning or by rewarding yourself once you achieve the milestones you set for yourself. You must also understand that learning will involve failing sometimes but in failure, there is also learning.
Creating a supportive physical and mental environment is also key to learning. You need to think in terms of the temperature of the room, sound, mood, and general ambience. If for example, you can’t read without music, an absolutely quiet environment would defeat the purpose.
Learning new things will always be fun and please note that this isn’t restricted to formal learning as one can pick up vocational skills, language skills, emotional skills, etc. Overall, you can learn anything you want to if you truly need to learn it, you just need a good dose of self-discipline, commitment, and understanding of self. This is the way I see things today.