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Volunteers discuss adult education

A group of our volunteers spent a blessed and inspirational morning considering the topic of adult education early in November under the guidance of Adult Literacy Training specialist Rhoda van Schalchwyk.

We were inspired by the personal testimonies of the volunteers as they shared their calling , commitment and passion to serve at FCD. We are blessed and privileged to have such a committed team on individuals on board and as part of the team.

Chairman, Linda Oosthuizen, reminded us that  while “… we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2v10, one of our responsibilities as an organisation is to instill in our learners the knowledge that they too have been created in Christ for good works, equipping them with the ability and desire to “walk in them”.


Please see Rhoda’s notes below summarising the session and the learnings we shared around the topic of adult learning. I am sure you will agree with me that we learnt and shared so much and could’ve spent the rest of the day learning from each other. Enjoy the notes – refreshing your memory on some of the thoughts and let it inspire you (and make you more curious) to apply some of the learning’s during next year’s classes. We will definitely look at a follow up session early on in 2016. To those that missed out – we would love to have you around next time.

In the meantime, please feel free to continue sharing insights into this topic by adding your comments to this article.


The recent national awards for excellence in adult teaching identified the following traits in the teaching of the winners:
Enjoyment – being in the moment of teaching without distraction and enjoying the joy of planting seed.
Excellence – this kind of teaching is about the student and not the subject. Being aware of what I am doing. What is my normal? Is excellent normal for me?
Investing in society – do I go beyond the syllabus to equip students for real life society?

WE ALL NEED TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WE BRING INTO THE CLASS. We need to appreciate our talents.
WE MUST THINK ABOUT THE WHY BEHIND OUR INVOLVEMENT. What do we need to get out for it to work for us (otherwise we are going to burn out!).


Discussion points
What is an adult?
How is an adult different to a child?
We have to ask how we define learning because this definition determines how we operate in the learning situation.
Why do some adults actively seek learning after school or after a phase in their lives?
We think we know how children learn, but how do adults learn new things?

Assumptions of Malcolm Knowles about the way that adults learn

  • Adults have more energy for learning if they can understand why something must be learnt. We have to remove the “must” and replace it with a fair reason.
  • Adults are what we call self-directed. An adult doesn’t operate like a child – an adult moves him/herself. In theory at least.
  • The life experiences of an adult has enormous influence. It can limit learning but is a treasure trove for enriching the learning of the whole class. Remember also that adults learn from each other and in groups. There is very exciting potential for creating a climate so that the whole group that is learning, starts learning from the joy and pain of all in the group.
  • If an adult understands something to be desirable and meaningful, they will grasp out to learning (and change).
  • Children need content to have a framework of knowledge and then as adults they can progress towards reflection and thinking about the processes. This means we very often speak content to children, but we seek process with adults.
  • Adults are internally motivated. Each adult is marvelously intricate and not a jellyfish, but a whole person.

Some definitions of adult learning
Knowles speaks of the art and science of teaching adults.
Lindeman says we are giving new meaning to categories of experience.
Mezirow says that the basis of adult learning is perspective transformation.
We spoke about teaching for the flexibility to move boundaries. We teach to give courage to face society in a new way.

How do we think about ourselves in this brave world of teaching adults?
We are all travelers.
We are midwives.
We are dancers.
We are peaceful warriors.

How do we teach differently because we are so honestly respectful that we are teaching adults?
1. Make space for humour and openness. Use cartoons but remember not everything is a joke. Just remember that you are part of the learning process – it is like all the worshipers who remove their shoes before they enter the place of worship because we are all equal. Be genuinely curious about the learners because you don’t know it all. Don’t try to play “Gotcha!” Never ever. Think about how icebreakers can often make a fool of somebody’s way of thinking. Be humble in the content knowledge that you bring and share, don’t talk down.

2. Take the risk of throwing in real questions that are open-ended. Do brainstorming, not me vs you! Allow and encourage the group to teach each other and join in taking responsibility for the whole group’s success. Let this class now be the best ever. Ask someone from the class to rephrase your explanation when a learner doesn’t quite understand the way you explain things.

3. You need time. Learning takes time.

4. There should be a safe atmosphere – safe enough to risk making a mistake so that the whole class can learn. If you mock the mistakes of previous students or gossip, you are untrustworthy.

5. You have to be your authentic self. You bring luggage from your life. So do all your students. Tread very respectfully and bravely. Do planning so that you build new positive experiences to add to their stash of moments. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your class becomes the treasured memory that the learner takes to the next phase of their lives? Don’t fear the past, rather use it to build bridges for tomorrow.

6. You must, must , must stop and think. Think before every lesson. Think after each session. Be the adult that watches your own mind. Get a buddy trainer and have coffee and talk about the processes in your class and what is happening in your own head as you teach with respectful honesty.

We need to talk again . . .
It is easy to talk about the theory. All of us slip into role-playing, we compromise on respectful honesty and adulthood. We can help each other by thinking about it and perhaps talking about it. Maybe there is somebody in the group that can lead such a conversation? We all have to bring our voices to this table.

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