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Characteristics and Consequences of Adult Learning Methods and Strategies

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Research Brief Volume 3, Number 1 2009 1 Trivette, C. M., Dunst, C. J., Hamby, D. W., & O’Herin, C.E. (2009). Characteristics and consequences of adult learning methods and strategies, Research Brief Volume 3, Number 1. Tots n Tech Research Institute. Available from http://tnt.asu.edu. Also pub-lished as Trivette, C. M., Dunst, C. J., Hamby, D. W., & O'Herin, C. E. (2009). Characteristics and consequences of adult learning methods and strategies [Winterberry Research Syntheses, Vol. 2, Number 2]. Asheville, NC: Winterberry Press. Characteristics and Consequences of Adult Learning Methods and Strategies Carol M. Trivette Carl J. Dunst Deborah W. Hamby Chainey E. O’Herin Abstract The effectiveness of four adult learning methods (accelerated learning, coaching, guided design, and just-in-time training) constituted the focus of this research synthesis. Findings reported in How People Learn (Bransford et al., 2000) were used to operationally de-fine six adult learning method characteristics, and to code and analyze the relationship between the six char-acteristics and the study outcomes (learner knowledge, skills, attitudes, and self-efficacy beliefs). The synthesis included 79 studies using either randomized controlled trials or comparison group designs (N = 3,152 experi-mental group participants and N = 2,988 control or comparison group participants). Results showed that all six adult learning method characteristics were associated with positive learner outcomes, but that learning meth-ods and practices that more actively involved learners in acquiring, using, and evaluating new knowledge and practice had the most positive consequences. Results also showed that the adult learning methods were most effective when used with a small number of learners (< 30) for more than 10 hours on multiple occasions. Im-plications for professional training and technical assis-tance are described. Introduction The manner in which the characteristics of four dif-ferent adult learning methods were associated with the acquisition and mastery of new knowledge or practice is the focus of this research synthesis. The four methods are accelerated learning (Meier, 2000; Molnar, 2001), coaching (Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990; Leat, Lofthouse, & Wilcock, 2006), guided design (Coscarelli & White, 1986; Wales & Stager, 1978), and just-in-time training (Davis, 2005; Rosen, 2005). Findings described in How People Learn (Bransford et al., 2000; Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999), a research review on the science of learning, were used to develop criteria that were used as the standards against which the four adult learning methods and strate-gies were judged. The research synthesis was guided by a characteris-tics/consequences framework that relates variations in the presences of operationally-defined features of a practice to variations in study outcomes (Dunst & Trivette, in press; Dunst, Trivette, & Cutspec, 2007; Dunst, Trivette, & Wat-son, 2009). The focus of analysis is unpacking, disentan-gling, and identifying those characteristics of a practice that matter most in terms of explaining the relationship between the independent and dependent variables in stud-ies constituting the focus of analysis. The process is similar to that proposed by Lipsey (1993) for unbundling the components or elements of an intervention or treatment to isolate the active ingredients of a method or procedure. The yield is a better understanding of the conditions that best explain how and in what manner an intervention or practice exerts an effect in one or more outcomes. Background Adult learning refers to a collection of theories and methods for describing the conditions under which the processes of learning are optimized (Merriam, 2001; Trot-ter, 2006; Yang, 2003). Knowles (1984) used the term an-dragogy to describe the assumptions of adult learning: Readiness-to-learn, self-directedness, active learner partici-pation, and solution-centered. Nearly all adult learning methods and strategies include at least several of these elements. The four adult learning methods constituting the focus of this research synthesis include, to different de-grees, the characteristics that Knowles et al. (1998) as well as others (Trotter, 2006; Yang, 2003) consider the princi-ples of adult learning. The four methods were selected for analysis because they all have received considerable atten-tion and their effectiveness has been assessed using either randomized controlled trials or comparison group designs.Research Brief Volume 3, Number 1 2009 2 Trivette, C. M., Dunst, C. J., Hamby, D. W., & O’Herin, C.E. (2009). Characteristics and consequences of adult learning methods and strategies, Research Brief Volume 3, Number 1. Tots n Tech Research Institute. Available from http://tnt.asu.edu. Also pub-lished as Trivette, C. M., Dunst, C. J., Hamby, D. W., & O'Herin, C. E. (2009). Characteristics and consequences of adult learning methods and strategies [Winterberry Research Syntheses, Vol. 2, Number 2]. Asheville, NC: Winterberry Press. Adult Learning Methods Each adult learning method constituting the focus of analysis includes similar features as well as elements unique to each strategy. The following are brief descrip-tions of the four adult learning methods. Accelerated learning. First called suggestopedia (Lo-zanov, 1978), this adult learning method includes proce-dures for creating a relaxed emotional state, an orches-trated and multi-sensory learning environment, and active learner engagement in the learning process (Meier, 2000). A relaxed emotional state includes relaxation and breath-ing exercises, suggestion, and a positive learning atmos-phere. An orchestrated environment includes imagery, dramatic readings, instructional videos, and peripherals (posters and visual displays). Active learning includes plays or skits, role playing, practice exercises, group activities, and journal writing. Accelerated learning is considered a holistic adult learning method that is intended to promote creation (and not consumption), enhance retention, and quicken the learning process. Coaching. “Coaching is a…method of transferring skills and expertise from more experienced and knowledgeable practitioners…to less experienced ones” (Hargreaves & Dawe, 1990, p. 230). This adult learning method includes procedures for joint planning and goal setting, coach in-formation sharing and modeling, learner


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