February 12, 2018—A participant in a recent online course introduced himself as an “old dog,” and expressed trepidation about managing his first online learning experience—a “new trick” for him. Ultimately he did just fine, with the help of an attentive instructor and his own motivation for learning.
There is no real evidence that learning or learning ability necessarily declines as a person moves into adulthood and continues to age. In fact, adults are in certain ways better learners because of their wealth of experience. That accumulated experience brings knowledge and perspective, which allows them to use the most basic dynamic of learning: building on what they already know (called crystallized intelligence).
Adult learners also have a more sophisticated repertoire of learning modalities from which to choose when learning. They have learned that certain kinds of learning are best acquired in particular ways. However, new modes of learning, like taking an online course for the first time, still requires overcoming insecurities, and, creating new pathways to learning. For example, an online course requires learners to take more responsibility for their agency in learning. For adults used to a “sit and listen’ mode of learning (if that can be called learning), that can be intimidating.
It may appear that adults are slower at learning new things, and that may be true—in a sense. But this in part is due to the fact that adults process new ideas and facts in a more complex way than do children. Adults choose what they will learn (and not learn) more than children are able. As Ledford Bischof put it, “Old dogs can learn new tricks, but they may be reluctant to do so, particularly when they are not convinced that the new trick is any better than the old tricks which served them so well in the past. They may not learn new tricks as rapidly as they did in the past. But if they started out as clever young pups, they are very likely to end up as wise old hounds.”
You can help adult learners by giving attention to the following:
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Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and; A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.