The learning process of adults differs in some aspects from that of children. Adults often have a clear motivation for their learning. They may want to acquire new professional skills, advance their career or pursue personal interests. In contrast, children often learn out of curiosity and to further their overall development. Adults can plan and organise their learning independently. They can set their own learning goals and shape the learning process according to their needs. Children, on the other hand, often need guidance and support from adults to structure their learning activities. Adults bring more life experience and knowledge that they can use in learning. They can draw on previous experiences and incorporate them into their learning process. Children, on the other hand, often have less experience and knowledge, so their learning tends to focus on acquiring basic knowledge and skills. Adults often have busier schedules and commitments that can limit their learning time. Therefore, it is important that adult learners develop effective time management skills to fit their learning into their schedules. Children, on the other hand, usually have more time and flexibility to learn. Adults often prefer learning content that is directly applicable to their life or work situation. They want to know how they can put what they have learned into practice. Children, on the other hand, often learn basic concepts and skills that support their overall development. However, these differences do not mean that adults cannot benefit from the same learning methods as children. People of all ages can benefit from a variety of learning approaches and techniques. However, taking into account the specific needs, motivations and preferences of adult learners can help to facilitate more effective and purposeful learning.
Compared to children, adults find it harder to process new information quickly, but learning techniques from school days are of little help. Many automatically fall back on the learning techniques they remember from their school days, but there are more effective ways to learn successfully as an adult and to retain what is new in the long term. Learning is therefore often a great challenge for adults, especially since many people bring with them outdated beliefs about how learning works. Often the question is not asked: What is my actual learning goal? Depending on whether facts are to be reproduced, psychomotor skills are to be learned or possibly one’s own attitude is to be changed, different learning methods come into question. It is therefore advisable to clarify in advance why you want to learn something and what goals are associated with it. These goals can be professional, such as the desire for a promotion, or reflect personal interests and passions. Knowing and nurturing one’s motivation is a crucial first step on the path to effective learning. Another important aspect is choosing the right learning techniques, because many adults automatically fall back on methods they know from their school days, such as hours of memorising texts or stubbornly cramming facts.
However, such techniques are not optimal for the adult brain; dull repetition in particular is inefficient. In addition, many people have no motivation at all because they associate negative associations with learning. Adults often try to store things rationally, but that doesn’t work, i.e. they have to learn again and feel like a child, they have to think in pictures and file the information in their mental mailbox in such a way that they are guaranteed to find it again.
In concrete terms, this means linking information and facts with emotions and then storing them in the brain with the help of a fixed structure. For example, by linking a piece of information to a clearly defined location in an exaggerated, painful, funny, erotic or crass way, it will be found again and again. This learning technique is sometimes referred to as the memory palace or loci method. Instead of passively absorbing information, adults should actively participate in the learning process, i.e. learn in a planned way, with a system. This can be done through active reading, discussions or making their own summaries and notes. Through active engagement with the learning material, the brain is more strongly activated and what is learned is better anchored in the memory.
This includes the right learning environment, with most adults preferring a quiet and undisturbed place to study where one can concentrate, while others like a light acoustic stimulation in the background and prefer to study in a café. Still others in a sober place like a library or in their own bed. However, distractions such as the mobile phone, social media or other distracting influences should be minimised or turned off. A structured schedule and clear learning goals can also help make learning more effective.
Then, when learning, one must ask oneself: how can I cognitively engage with the subject matter. One way is to learn in a group, because you take responsibility not only for yourself but also for others, you prepare yourself, you deal with the subject matter more intensively, you engage in discussion.
Self-tests on what you have learned are also an interesting learning technique to get away from superficial reading. While reading, you create a series of questions that you answer yourself later. The aim should be to be able to take a position on what you have learned. What were the most important statements? What is critical about it?
No matter which learning method one chooses, the aim should always be to deal with a topic in depth, i.e. to reflect regularly on how well a measure has worked and, if necessary, to adjust the setting, the time or the method.
However, there are also mistakes that adults often make in learning that should be avoided, such as putting themselves under too much pressure and having unrealistic expectations, because learning is a process that requires time and patience. It is important to give oneself enough time and to appreciate small progress. In a relaxed environment where learning is encouraged and fun, one automatically reaches one’s learning goal, while pressure, punishment or reward, on the other hand, are not conducive to achieving one’s goal because the motivation is not intrinsic.
For a long time, research was of the opinion that you only have to find out your learning type, then you can learn more easily, but this assumption is now considered outdated. Learning resistance is not caused by types, but mostly by the fact that people like to justify their previous actions and defend the meaningfulness behind them. Therefore, the division into learning types creates a feeling of control, which can be counterproductive, as can too strong a focus on certain learning methods. Everyone learns in different ways and it is important to try different techniques to find out which work best. A mixture of approaches can help to make learning varied and effective, with techniques such as repetitive reading, memorisation, marking, underlining or summarising material having the least benefit.
Instead, it is useful to think of learning as an active process of understanding and applying knowledge. This means making connections, thinking critically and applying what you have learned in different contexts. A text is not just read, but what is read is questioned again and again, so that one has actively engaged with it and can thus remember it better.