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The main differences between children’s learning and adult learning

Children grow into a world shaped by adults. They have to get involved with the rules that apply, acquire basic cultural techniques, appropriate the world as it is. Adults already have these cultural techniques; they are the ones who shape the world. Adults have a great deal of knowledge at work and in their private lives, they have knowledge and, above all, their own opinion and interpretation on all issues concerning themselves and their social environment, they have a personal and professional identity. Everything that adults learn anew means equally an unlearning of already existing knowledge, but above all a reinterpretation of knowledge, a work on one’s own identity. Adults learn in an interest-driven way, based on their own experiences, and they place everything new into already existing cognitive and subjective structures.

Teaching adults must therefore take into account that adults already master their lives, are self-confident and competent. This is based on three important principles. Adults are people with their own knowledge and experiences that must be taken into account and made fruitful in the teaching-learning process, i.e., adults are therefore not consumers but co-creators of the teaching-learning process. Learning is most effective when the learners themselves are active, i.e., teaching methods must therefore activate the learning adults, involve them and make them co-responsible for the teaching-learning process. Human beings, even adult human beings, are not only mind beings, but have feelings and senses. Methods of teaching must therefore involve the whole person, engaging head, heart and hand in learning.

The most important thing for teachers with adults is to take adults seriously and to master the methods necessary to work with adults. In planning, therefore, one must include steps in which the interests of the learners, their expectations and their learning progress are the subject of the joint work. Therefore, there can be no course in adult education in which the learners do not introduce themselves to each other right at the beginning, exchange their expectations and interests and discuss the common work. The teacher has to moderate, coordinate, bundle and summarize the statements of the participants and then implement them for the lesson. The teacher must also state his interests, his goals and his expectations, i.e., in adult education the teacher is a regular member of the group, with a special role, but still only one adult among others. In this, he derives his legitimacy to teach others not from an institution with the possibility of obligation and coercion, but from acceptance by the learners. He must therefore also bring himself as a whole person into the common process.