Misconceptions of Adult Learning and Application


I came into this class with a few ideas of my own about adult learning. I am coming out of this class with a wealth of information and a much better idea of what adult learning truly is. I now know that adult learning is many different things combined into one pot that is constantly growing with time. The adult is in control of their learning and can bring it to any level they choose. We decide as an adult learner when to start and when to stop the process when it comes to our education at a campus or online college and in a traditional or non-traditional learning environment.

The misconceptions I have had before I took this class were those related to the McCluskys Theory of Margin, The Behaviorist Theory (Behaviorist Orientation) and a Constructivist, Social and Situational Theory (Connectivism). Reading and learning deeper into these theories has given me a much clearer idea of how my ideas can really be driven down for a deeper understanding of the ideas presented by the Theories and Theorists talked about in my paper.

Misconception/New Understanding/Theory

One of the first misconceptions that I had coming into this class is that there is no formula for success in balancing our daily life for adult learners that have so much on their plates and are wanting to be successful in their educational career, as well as in their personal and career obligations. McClusky’s Theory of Margin stood out to me an adult learner because it is difficult in so many ways when you are an adult learner with everything else going on in life. McClusky’s Theory is important, ““he shows that the fulcrum of balancing life is the key for the adult learner moves variably between the load of life and the power of life to counteract that load” (Nadler, 2012).

With McClusky’s theory he describes a formula which describes what a student needs in order to handle all of their daily tasks which include “Load Factors: External — tasks of life such as family, career, socio-economic status Internal — self-concept, goals, personal expectations, Power Factors: Physical — strength, stamina, energy, health , Social — ability to relate to others , Mental — ability to think, reason , Economic — money, position, influence and Skills — what the individual knows how to do” (McClusky, 1963)

 My new understanding of my misconception is that there truly is a formula in order to be a successful adult learner student. I see now that there is really a balance that needs to be focused on for everything to fall into place and allow the student to make sure that they are making enough time to balance family, career and school all at the same time. Without this balance we can fall off the wagon and it can very hard to get back up. As a student learner myself I realize that I never want to ask for extra help from family or friends when I have too much going on and need time for class. I know that I must push myself no matter what goes on, because clearly there are many things that can stop me from pursuing my dreams. Personal strength was one of the things that I have focused on through my educational journey.

A second misconception that I had was that observation was not necessarily a focus in adult learning. After reading the Behaviorist Orientation was developed by John B. Watson, observation is a very large and important part of successful adult learning. It was interesting to read about Watson’s thoughts on how he projected the learning patterns of an adult learner.  Watson’s study included that “Observable behavior rather than internal thought processes are the focus of study. In particular, learning is manifested by a change in behavior” (Smith, 1999) We can see that environment shapes the behavior of the adult learner. “The principles of contiguity (how close in time two events must be for a bond to be formed) and reinforcement (any means of increasing the likelihood that an event will be repeated) are central to explaining the learning process.”  (Merriam, Caffarella 1991)

 My new understanding of my misconception of observation, is that oberservation is just as important in adult learning as it is in any other type of learning. The Behaviorist Orientation theory has proved to me that an educator observation of an adult learner allows them to create an environment of effective learning.” Behaviorism is a worldview that assumes a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli” (LearningTheories.com, 2016) The observation of behavior in the classroom opens up many doors for both the students and the teachers together. Understanding what makes students better learners and helping develop these learning patterns more helps students be successful.

Along with Watson developing this theory, James Hartley has also suggested that Activity is important, Repetition, generalization and discrimination are important notions., reinforcement is the most important motivator, and learning is helped when objectives are clear. Observation was important for educators to understand the process of learning for the adult learner. Because the adult learner is a different type of learner, educators really need to take the time to grasp how their classroom learns. With the Behaviorist Orientation as a guide for educators it will allow them to have a much better idea of what drives their learners and how they should proceed in their classroom with presenting new materials and lessons. “Using behaviorist theory in the classroom can be rewarding for both students and teachers. Behavioral change occurs for a reason; students work for things that bring them positive feelings, and for approval from people they admire. They change behaviors to satisfy the desires they have learned to value” (Standridge, 2002)

My third and final misconception would have to be related to the Connectivism Theory. “Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the World Wide Web and among themselves” (Downes, 2010) I chose this theory because although I use technology as a learning tool every day, my understanding of how important this is to an adult learner is now greater after reading and learning about this theory.

My new understanding of Connectivism Theory is that adult learners and different generations of learners have different and specific ways that they learn. Having the World Wide Web available as a tool for learning is one very important part of learning. Learning can take place through social media for starters which for me has really opened my eyes to how much I have actually learned and experienced through social media. With friends who live all over the world along with different pages that I like help expand my knowledge of the world that I would never have otherwise. “Called a learning theory for a digital age, it seeks to explain complex learning in a rapidly changing social digital world” (Education 2020, 2016)

Connectivism in the classroom I think is a very important part of the learning process for adult learners. “A key feature of connectivism is that much learning can happen across peer networks that take place online. In connectivist learning, a teacher will guide students to information and answer key questions as needed, in order to support students learning and sharing on their own. Students are also encouraged to seek out information on their own online and express what they find. A connected community around this shared information often results” (LearningTheories.com, 2016) It is very interesting to me how much students can learn and share through using online resources available to them. More information is available and shareable through these networks which makes it a better learning experience for the learners.

  As an adult learner I feel that now understanding how important this type of resource and learning technique is, I will make sure that this type of experience is an option for any student that I have in the classroom. This type of learning process can open so much more for students as they get their hands on many more resources that they may never have been able to use before.


In conclusion, my eyes have been opened to many more ideas that I would maybe not had the experience to have if I had not taken this class. It has been very interesting to me because I am an adult learner and I can relate to much of the materials presented in the course. McClusky’s theory about students and balance really stood out to me, and I am sure many of the students in the class, because we deal with balance on a daily basis. As an adult learner we have so many responsibilities that take up most of our time and on top of it all we decided to take on the task of continuing our education as an adult learner. Not only is this a huge step but a wonderful experience for us all as we continue our journey to better ourselves. A point stood out to me of the Behaviorist Orientation which is about observation. Educators need to observe their adult learners because they will learn so much about their learning styles and types of learners in their classroom which can help the educator develop their lessons and classroom in a better way to help adult learners be more successful. I never thought about the importance of observation in adult learners because I always associated it to children. It is an important concept in all areas of learning in all groups. Connectivism was the last area that I included in my paper. I also thought this was something that stood out to me because I realize how important using technology in the learning process really is. Something as simple as social media and blogs are huge learning tools that help adult learners in the classroom. I never really understood how important until I read about it in class. I use the web on a daily basis to learn and now I can understand how much it really does help me and my fellow students. All of this information has really shaped the way I will go about learning and educating in the future.


Downes, S. (2010). New technology supporting informal learning. Journal of Emerging Technologies in Web Intelligence, 2(1), 27-33.


Education 2020, (2016) What is Connectivism?, Retrieved from http://education-2020.wikispaces.com/connectivism


Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (1998). The Behavioral System. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/behavior/behovr.html


Kerr, B. (December 2006). A challenge to connectivism. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from http://billkerr2.blogspot.com/2006/12/challenge-to-connectivism.html


Merriam, S. and Caffarella (1991, 1998) Learning in Adulthood. A comprehensive guide, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


McClusky, H. Y. (1963). The course of the adult life span. In W. C. Hallenbeck (Ed.), Psychology of adults. Chicago: Adult Education Association of the U.S.A.


Nadler, B., (2002) Learning Theory – The Margins of Learning Management: How to Keep Learning Indispensable, Retrieved from https://cfcastd.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/learning-theory-the-margins-of-learning-management-how-to-keep-learning-indispensible/


Shaffer, D. (2000) Social and Personality Development (4th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.


Smith, M. K., (1999) ‘The Behaviourist Orientation to Learning’, The Encyclopedia of informal education.  Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/the-behaviourist-orientation-to-learning/


Standridge, M., (2002). Behaviorism. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/index.php?title=Behaviorism


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