Receptiveness to Learning: Responsibilities of the Educator and the Student
In many of the classes that I teach, I find a resistance to learning to be more and more common. While this usually fades with prompting and grading related to the demonstrated use of research, a few students don’t benefit from this prompting because they do not value the learning.
Understanding the Adult Learner
Though this is certainly not a new concern for educators, this resistance to learning, or, more aptly, the lack of receptiveness to learning, aligns with a precept of adult learning in that adults want to direct their own learning. They want to see the value, or relevance, in what they are learning and how it correlates to previous experience. The perception is that, unless the value is ascertained, the effort will not be an efficient use of resources. And for adults, time and effort considerations are important when life is pulling them in multiple directions.
An adult learning model presented by Knowles is based on several assumptions regarding the adult learner: the need to know, learner’s self-concept, role of the learner’s experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation. Each of the assumptions shares a common thread in that the individual is cognizant of their own goals and needs. These goals and needs determine the value that adult learners see in the process of learning in relation to achieving goals. Merriam described adult learning as transitioning from the learner’s perspective to the learner in context, insinuating that learners will either learn how to adapt to conditions or learn how to use conditions for their benefit.
The Responsibility of the Educator
Educators should expect some resistance to learning related to low motivation, low ability to learn, low regard for the subject matter, and even low regard for the teacher. These are all elements that can be managed by the educator through actively engaging the student.
Active engagement is more than just prompting a response to canned, repetitive questions. The teacher must interact with the individual student to determine why there is resistance or a lack of receptiveness. Upon making that determination, the teacher must then create an environment in which the adult student is receptive to learning by building value in learning. The teacher must create an environment in which the student is able to perceive value in the process and the end result..
The teacher is not alone. The student also has a responsibility to the process. The student has entered into the class to fulfill a perceived need (as demonstrated by the act of choosing the specific class over other options) and initiated change. Change can be in the form of developing a specific skill or characteristic or reinforcing a value or practice. This is where the student’s responsibility to the class lies.
Each student has initiated an effort to effect some sort of change in their lives. It may not be a sweeping change, but there is something. Failing to be receptive to learning hinders change and limits the ability to meet goals. Students must always look for ways to move forward. Like water that finds the path of least resistance, students must come to realize that unless they keep moving, they stagnate.
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 Hannum, W. (2009). Training myths: False beliefs that limit training efficiency and effectiveness, part 2. Performance Improvement, 48(6), 25-29.
 Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species, (3rd ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing Company.
 Merriam, S. (2008). Adult learning theory for the twenty-first century. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, 2008(119), 93-98. doi:10.1002/ace.309
 Brookfield, S. (2006). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (2nd ed.) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Author Perspective: Educator