My philosophy for learning and education incorporates multiple theories. When considering how and why adults learn, my view includes aspects of both the humanist and social cognitive learning theories. The theories of Bandura, Perry, and Knowles have influenced my views in particular. When considering adult development, Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Systems Theory stands out to me.
I resonate with the humanist idea that the goal of learning is self-actualization. I treasure both freedom and dignity, and I hope that comes forth in my own teaching. For the most part, I believe people have control over their own reality and destiny and, therefore, have great potential. I also agree with the humanist belief that our own self-actualization carries with it the responsibility to help others on the path. I appreciate the camaraderie between teacher and student in the humanist tradition. While I believe a humanistic approach is ideal for many areas of adult education, I do not believe it is ideal for every situation or for young children. A humanistic approach combined with other compatible approaches can be effective in these areas. The one area of humanism that I defend most strongly is the belief that perception affects behavior.
Unlike behaviorists, I do not believe behavior can be predicted. People often respond differently to the same stimuli, as can be evidenced in the marked behavior differences among siblings. I believe perception makes the difference, and perception cannot be controlled by stimuli. As in the social cognitive orientation, I believe learning involves interaction with others and with the environment. Bandura separated observation from imitation, and I think that makes the difference between learning as an infant and learning as an adult (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).
Following Perry’s Developmental Scheme, infants are in the first stage where the authority figure is always right. Thus, they imitate the authority figure. As a person’s cognitive development progresses along the stages, he or she observes others and the environment and, then, makes judgments based on those observations. The results of those judgments will determine whether the person chooses to imitate what has been observed or reject it by acting in opposition to it. This is often seen in families. My sister and I were raised in the same household with the same parents, yet we are as different from one another as night and day. We observed the same authority figures, but made different judgments about what we witnessed. She imitated what I rebelled against, and vice versa.
As a good humanist, I believe that people have the ability to determine their own destiny, and human nature is ultimately good. People want their needs met, but they also want to improve themselves. Knowles recognized this when he developed his list of learning outcomes for adult learning. These include such outcomes as:
*Adults should develop an attitude of acceptance, love, and respect
*Adults should acquire the skills necessary to achieve the potentials
of their personalities.
*Adults should understand the essential values in the capital of
human experience (Knowles, 1955).
Knowles obviously expected adult learners to develop into the best versions of themselves. It is because learners seek positive change that they will imitate those behaviors, beliefs, and teachings they perceive will meet their needs, including that of self-improvement. Because people vary according to their perceptions and values, they also vary according to behaviors (imitation vs. rejection). Returning to the example of siblings, my sister and I chose different strategies for meeting our needs because our values are different and because we tend to perceive the same situation in different ways. Still, we are both attempting to improve ourselves and our lives.
As far as the social environments on which adults are basing their observations and judgments, Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Systems Theory provides a good model. He provides a good overview of the social environments affecting adult development throughout the lifespan. “Each system contains roles, norms, and rules that can powerfully shape development” (New World Encyclopedia, 2008). Yoonkyeung Nah (2000) provides a good example of this idea in practice in the article Can a Self-Directed Learner be Independent, Autonomous, and Interdependent?: Implications for Practice. In this article Nah explores the results of self-directed learning based on culture. She states that self-directed learning promotes the American values of independence and autonomy, but other cultures do not value those qualities. She explored the results of self-directed learning on Korean women and found that they approached their learning from an interdependent perspective because interdependence is a quality valued by their culture. Thus, the layers of their environment influenced the results of their learning experiences, namely the choices they made regarding imitation or rejection with regard to their careers. They chose to adapt their learning to their values.
Therefore the humanist and social cognitive theories influence my personal philosophy of learning and education. Learning occurs through a person’s interaction with his or her environment. What separates adult learning from other learning is the separation of observation from imitation. The effect of the learning on the person’s life is determined by what will aid the person’s self-improvement. The purpose of education is to support people to that end.
Knowles, M. S. (1955). Informal adult education: A guide for administrators, leaders, and teachers. New York: Association Press.
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Nah, Y. (2000). Can a self-directed learner be independent, autonomous, and interdependent?: Implications for practice. Adult Learning, 11(1), 18-19, 25. Retrieved from http://www.aaace.org/mc/page.do?sitePageId=66286&orgId=aaace
Urie Bronfenbrenner. (2008, April 2). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Urie_Bronfenbrenner?oldid=678460.