How do adults learn

Professor Dr. Ekkehard Nuissl von Rein held a seminar at the University of Vest din Timisoara in March. Participants were members of the university faculty. On the topic of the seminar "Methods of Adult Education", Dr. Ion Dumitru an interview with Prof. Nuissl von Rein.

I.D .: You are a very good specialist in adult education with a great deal of experience in this area. If you had to summarize in a few sentences the most important topics in adult education, what would they be?

E.N.v.R .: Society is changing rapidly at the moment. We are in the transition from an industrial to an information and service society in European countries. Whole industries like steel and coal are disappearing or becoming less important, while others like information and communication technology are becoming more and more important. Our way of living together is changing, the importance of families is decreasing, single parents are already normal today. Aesthetics, education, knowledge are becoming more and more important. In the Eastern European countries there is also the fact that the fundamental change from socialist planning structures to structures of the market has not yet been completed; on the contrary, in some countries such as Romania the transformation problems are even getting worse. In order to master all of this, adults have to learn a lot, adjust to the new circumstances, qualify, learn more about themselves, their possibilities and limits. They have to learn not only to adapt to new qualification structures, but also to influence and shape them based on their own interests. This means the need for professional qualifications as well as political education, cultural learning and personal development. There is no age at which this ends. And it begins with the first learning as a child - that is why we speak extensively today of lifelong learning, in which adult education is an important part.

I.D .: In your opinion, what are the main differences between learning by children and learning by adults?

E.N.v.R .: Children grow into a world that is designed by adults. You have to get involved with the applicable rules, acquire basic cultural techniques, acquire the ‘world as it is. Adults have these cultural techniques; they are the ones who shape the world. Adults have a great deal of knowledge at work and in private life, have knowledge of all questions about their person and their social environment and, above all, their own opinion and interpretation, have a personal and professional identity. Everything that adults learn anew means unlearning already existing knowledge, but above all a reinterpretation of knowledge, a work on one's own identity. Adults learn, guided by interests, based on their own experiences, and organize everything new into existing cognitive and subjective perceptions. ‘The teaching of adults must take into account that adults are already mastering their lives, are confident and competent.

I.D .: There are specific methods in adult education; can you name some?

E.N.v.R .: Indeed: Adult education is that area of ​​education (alongside schools and universities) that has tried out and further developed the most creative and extensive methods of teaching and learning. Most of them can also be used in other areas of education, e.g. at the university. These methods are based on three important principles. The first means: adults are people with their own knowledge and experience, which must be taken into account and made fruitful in the teaching-learning process; Adults are therefore not consumers, but help shape the teaching-learning process. The second means: learning is most effective when the learners are active themselves - this theoretical assumption has now been well proven empirically. The teaching methods must therefore activate the learning adults, involve them and make them jointly responsible for the teaching-learning process. The third means: people, even adults, are not only intellectual beings, but have feelings and senses. Teaching methods must therefore involve the whole person, involving head, heart and hand in learning. There are a tremendous number of methods that take these three principles into account. In the seminar at the University of Vest din Timisoara, for example, I practiced the metaplan, a method to call up the ‘knowledge and interests of the participants and to involve them in the decision about the joint teaching-learning process. Or the basic method of "flashlight" which can be used in many ways. We worked in groups, an important basic structure in adult education, as all participants can have their say and contribute their knowledge and opinion. We have used different methods of feedback. And we have improved communication through the design of the room and the seating arrangement, and in the "marketplace" method we also had sensual impressions of the learning capacity of physical movement. Standing, sitting and walking are just as much learning-relevant activities as thinking and speaking.

I.D .: In your opinion, what are the most important reasons for adults to take part in further training measures?

E.N.v.R. : The reasons are as varied as the people themselves. The question of whether an occasion becomes an educational decision often depends on whether education means anything to people, whether they know and appreciate the value of education. In many cases, the decision to participate results from a problem: you notice that your own qualifications are no longer sufficient to meet the requirements of everyday professional life (e.g. when traditional work processes are completely redesigned through the use of computers). Or you want to take on a new task that requires knowledge and skills, such as language skills or personnel management. Or you have an experience, perhaps a very personal one, that motivates you to pursue further training - for example a family or relationship conflict. In many cases, however, motifs also arise in the environment, through the social environment. In the company, the employer expects further qualification in the workplace, the wife asks the husband to learn to dance, after moving to the country it is necessary to study for the driving test and much more. The motives for further training are not only different, they are usually a mixture of different motives and, this is important for teaching, they are of different strengths. Fluctuation in courses, drop out, is often less related to the course itself than to the existing motives.

I.D .: How can we plan working with adults so that they learn efficiently?

E.N.v.R .: The most important thing is to take adults seriously. Second most important: master the methods necessary to work with adults. The third: To plan steps in the planning in which the interests of the learners, their expectations and their learning progress are the subject of the joint work. There cannot be a course in adult education in which the learners do not introduce themselves to each other right from the start, exchange their expectations and interests and advise on the joint work. The teacher must above all moderate, coordinate, bundle and summarize the statements of the participants and implement them for the seminar. Cognitive input from the lecturers will only take place at a later point in time. Of course, the teacher must also state his interests, his goals and his expectations. In adult education, there is a regular member of the seminar group, although with a special role, but only one adult among others. He does not derive his legitimation to teach others from a state institution with the possibility of compulsory and compulsory exams (as in exams at school and university), but from the acceptance by the learners. He must therefore contribute himself as a whole person to the common process.

I.D .: What are the most important aspects of adult education in Germany? Do we also meet them in other countries, or are they only characteristic of Germany?

E.N.v.R .: In general, all countries that are in transition to the information society have similar problems and similar developments in continuing education. This applies to the countries of the European Union as well as to the United States. Of course, there are specific national differences; More than any other area of ​​education, further education is deeply rooted in the social, economic and political structures of the countries and closely linked to their development. Typical of all information societies today is the dwindling difference between general and vocational education. Further training in companies e.g. today includes political and cultural education, social communication and self-discovery as well as manual, technical training on machines and at the workplace. In language courses it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between professional and private interests. The steady increase in participation in further training is also typical; in Germany today this is around 50% of the population who take part in further training in the course of a year, somewhat less in the Mediterranean countries and more in Scandinavia. The participation structures are also similar: those who are already educated are more likely to receive further training - the more educated someone is, the greater their participation in further training. The younger someone is, the more likely they are to take part in further training. The difference between men and women, however, which used to be relatively large, has now disappeared. ‘Women take part in further training as often as men.

I.D .: Can you give us some advice for the further development of adult education in Romania?

E.N.v.R .: One should always be very careful with advice from outside. It is better to be asked directly about specific aspects, then you can name your experiences and better clarify in the conversation to what extent they are applicable to the respective situation. I have the impression that adult education in Romania is only just beginning. Here, in my opinion,the specifics of adult learning are better recognized. Also, it seems to me that the role of adult education in the development of Romanian society has not yet been adequately described, here some things can certainly be named more clearly in terms of educational policy. But one thing is particularly important to me: There can only be adult education in Romania if it is Romanian adult education. You can learn from abroad and adapt a few things. But, as I said above, continuing education is always closely linked to one's own social identity.

I.D .: Yesterday, March 18, 2000, it was decided to found a Romanian institute for adult education at the University of Vest din Timisoara. His name is: ... (I.R.E.A.). How do you think you can support their work?

E.N.v.R ,: I am happy about the establishment of the institute and I am sure that it can and will play a good and helpful role in the further development of Romanian adult education. The German Institute for Adult Education co-founded the institute as a junior partner and wants to support its work. We will provide the IREA with materials, advise it on issues relating to adult education (on request) and work on projects together with the institute. We assume that IREA can build up a network of institutions for adult education within the Timisoara region and that there will also be cooperation between universities and good contacts in practice at the national level. We are very confident that the institute will make a good contribution to the development of a Romanian path towards a national adult education structure.