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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Adult Learner Self-Portrait


I am Shaun Manzano, an MBA graduate who is dedicated to life long learning. I am writing a reflection of my most memorable learning experience as an adult learner. I will use these experiences to express the adult learning theories that applied to my situation. I will also indentify how the theories and my individual experience can be used within an adult learning setting.

Memorable Learning Experience

A memorable learning experience that I had as an adult learner was when I attended my bachelors and masters programs online. I have always been surrounded by technology since I first entered the class room in secondary education in first grade. This was just the early phases of the exploration of the computer technology. I was a traditional student during my school days all the way up to my associate’s degree. I enjoyed the support and interaction that I received from the instructors as a traditional student. I was able to ask questions and receive responses timely. But, this changed as the demands of my profession changed in the Air Force; I deployed every nine months, which made it very difficult/challenging to schedule classes. I think at one point I figured at the rate of my attendance, I would complete my bachelors in five years. It wasn’t until 2004, when I was introduced to the online schooling concept. In July of 2004 I decided to finish my bachelor’s degree online, so I attended “Grantham University”. My initial experience was very frightening, no teacher around me and I was on my own. I went through a major change during this period of adult learning. I had to make a schedule, plan my life around projects, tests, and papers. I change my mind set, I told my self that I am my own teacher. I adopted a self directed approach to learning and was able to work through my degree pretty quick during my first term. I deployed during my second term of school and was able to take four classes and still meet my commitments at work. For the first time, I was making strong progress toward degree completion. I had a few challenges along the way, like taking calculus and accounting courses. These courses are very hard even with instructors in a class room, but I was able to complete them successfully. I learned a lot more about my self. I learned that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. Also I increased my own self motivation and confidence. I graduated in January of 2007, completing 20 courses in less than 30 months; 10 months earlier than I originally projected with a 3.25GPA. This GPA was certainty an increase from my High school GPA of 2.8; back then I didn’t really start to get focused until my last two years after I realized the benefits of obtaining a higher GPA.

I separated from the military shortly after graduating and started working; it was very tough to find a good paying job. None of the jobs paid nearly what I expected with a degree. I soon decided to go back to school, so in July of 2007 I attended graduate school with Jones International University’s MBA program. I used the same approach as I did for my undergrad degree, “self directed learning”. Obtaining my Master’s was a very challenging task that I never encountered before. Writing on the graduate level, had to be the hardest task initial aside from all the research that was required of me. I stuck with writing, as I read more books, writing became easier for me. I continuously worked toward perfecting my writing process. I learned that writing was nothing more than a mind set, an approach that one must follow consistently to provide clarity in order to deliver the communication intended. I completed my MBA on June of 2009 with a 4.0 GPA. I worked hard and was able to apply everything I learned to practical situations in my professional career. I had a lot of restless nights, up late studying and always had a strong work ethic to produce a high quality product as I could; I never gave up and my efforts have paid off tremendously. I have committed my self as a life long learner and will obtain a PhD by the age of 37 in 2014.

Adult Theories in Practice

What have I learned from my experience as an adult learner that I have applied to a teaching situation in an adult setting? As a self directed learner and an instructor (since September 2008), I have shared my learning experiences with my students to help encourage them to secure a self directed approach to learning in order to become independent learners. The adult learning theories that I have used and currently experienced/practiced in an adult setting are constructivism, critical social theory, cross' adult learning theory and experiential learning.


According to the Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education, constructivism most significantly refers to the application of building on students existing knowledge and experience toward the desired learning outcome of new information learnt (Hays and Wilson, 2000). I have used my experiences to motivate students to strive to improve their self. I tell them about my vision and the goals that I’ve set along my academic journey and now profession. I explained the importance of having a vision and setting goals that are specific and measurable. I also explained to the students that at times life’s many changes can interrupt our learning and our goals that we as adults want to achieve. As a class, we discuss the importance of persistence and identify how it relates to their individual situation. We also identify why they may quit school; the students create a list of situations for when they might.

Critical Social Theory

The student-teacher relationship is one of co-learners, rather than the teacher being the ultimate resource of knowledge (Hays and Wilson, 2000). I have always worked really hard to obtain the trust and respect from students. What has carried me to be successful at this task today is “Patience” and “Passion”. Patience and Passion are necessary in gaining a trusting work relationship with students. Once students have your trust, learning increases due to the fact that the individual learner is open to listen and interpret what is being delivered. Away that I have introduced trust to students is by sharing person information from my experience. I introduced my situation when I was in the military and had to deploy. I explained how this situation temporarily delayed my persistence in learning.

Cross' Adult Learning Theory

Cross' adult learning theory is a model or an approach to adult learning that draws from other theorists' works including Knowles, theories of experiential learning, and life-span theory; leading towards Adults having as much choice as possible in the availability and organization of learning programs (Kearsley, 2008). My experiences with technology and interaction with other students across the globe have helped me understand the importance of time management, communication and obtaining trust from other group members. Having my academic drive also helped me to obtain these skills. As I was introduced to more teaching opportunities I learned newer ways on increasing the student’s abilities to interact with one another and also to increase or change the way they learnt material. According to the adult hand book, “[t]here are two important dimensions to the contextual approach to learning what we are calling “interactive” and “Structural” (Hays and Wilson, 2000).” I have created an interactive means for students to join in and participate in group discussions all from the internet. The interactive group that I created is called 757EG, where 757 relates to the area code and EG stands for empowerment group; today we can refer to this as being a social network. I have also implemented a collaboration tool (structural approach) which students used to access assignments and work over the internet. I managed the access to the files and trained individuals how to use the product. This product introduced two learning process both structured and transformational learning. The students all experienced new ways of interacting with the office products and also learned how to use the products to make their lives more efficient.

Some resistance is initially expected, I have had students that have been out of school for 25 yrs. For this group it was more of a challenge to get them up to speed in using the technology. This group had the very basic skill when using the computer. For example, turning on/off the computer, typing, and using a mouse was the general level of understanding of this particular group. One thing that helped the students was their individual drive to learn and use the technology; I created separate sessions to work with them individually outside of class time. A combination of spending time with students and also creating additional training handout were the key to increased learning opportunities.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is when “Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is relevant to the personal interests of the student (Kearsley, 2008).” During one of my lectures, I have my students take surveys that relate toward the identification of their type of personality and learning style. They have to identify the benefits of knowing their individual learning styles and create a strategy for how they can use the knowledge they know about their selves towards maximizing learning opportunities. This topic related to the students personal interest in learning what they should know best, them selves. Learning each of the student’s individual personalities has lead me to a more interactive teaching session. I am able to know how my students learn so that I can create the material for delivery in that format like visual, kinesthetic, audio and mixed.

Final Thoughts

My individual learning experiences as an adult learner have helped me relate to other adult learners in their learning experiences. I am approachable, easy to talk to because I have not only shared how I learned to my students; they have also shared with me. This will increase communication and improve the working relationship which is most preferred for maximum learning. This has helped me improve my lesson plans while also identifying how I want to deliver the material to be taught; all because I know my students. Knowing the different adult learning theories can help other adult educators to identify where they can personally relate their experiences and also improve quality of instruction.


Gibbons, H., & Wentworth, G. (2001). Andrological and pedagogical training differences for online instructors. Carrollton, GA: University of West Georgia. (Web)

Hayes, A., & Wilson, E. (2000). Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kearsley, M. (2008). Andragogy (M. Knowles). Theory into Practice (TIP). (Web)

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