Twelve Essential Principles of Adult Learning Across Cultures (Vella 2002)
1.Needs for assessment
Participation of the learners in naming what is to be learned. Who decides? Learners and teachers. Adults leave if the teaching does not meet their needs. Listen for themes as you discern the needs of learners. This can be adapted as gaps appear.
The enquiry period ascertains this as learners and companions reflect on current faith and life issues and as lack of knowledge and skills in a Catholic Scripture, theology, liturgy and way of life emerge.
In the environment and the process. We create a context for learning. The teacher creates an inviting setting for adult learners to be secure in the content, the process and in the confidentiality and openness of the group to hear and respond to genuine concerns and issues
This begins in the enquiry period and continues throughout the thorough catechesis (learning and practice).
3. Sound relationships
Between teacher and learners and among learners. Respect, safety, open communication, listening and humility. Dialogue is a central in quantum (creative) thinking. “We make the road by walking” (Freire & Horton 1990)
Sound relationships developed in the enquiry period point to “conversion” to belonging and contribution to the mutual learning about Christ in his Church. This continues throughout catechesis and cements in membership commitment.
4. Sequence of content and reinforcement
Failure to do this causes people to feel cheated. They drop out. Learning should move from basic understanding to acquiring new knowledge and skills.
The question for the teacher and the learner is what is the new knowledge? Relationship? Skill? Equality? What feelings are emerging?
5. Praxis: Learning by doing
Adults learn concepts, skills attitudes by action and reflection. It demands a hard look at content and the living out of that and its consequences.
Throughout the experience of RCIA process enquirers look at case studies, their reality, analysis, application and implications in life.
6. Respect for learners as decision-makers.
Adult learners are becoming increasingly free to make new suggestions and decisions. They are in control of their learning to be mature and equal members of the Church. “Learners know that they know because they have chosen to do what they are learning”.
What else do you feel? Think? That you need to learn about this is a vital question.
7. Ideas, feelings and actions: cognitive, affective and psychomotor aspects of learning
Without attention to “heart responses” and the actual doing of the learning, adults are faced with a mass of cognitive material: information without application. (Not a machine but a developing person with incredible potential).
Ritual helps to give expression to learning and enables a decision for Christ and the Catholic life. A fully alive Christian is engaged fully, head, heart and with behavioural response.
8. Immediacy of the learning
Adults need to see the immediate usefulness of the learning: of skills, knowledge and attitudes that they are working to understand and acquire. Perception evokes reality. Can they make a real contribution in this way of life?
From the beginning of being impressed by Catholics, to engaging with them in enquiry, to study in a catechesis, to a contribution at each stage to commitment, mystagogia and the daily living and learning.
9. Clear roles and role development.
“Only the student can name the moment of the death of the professor” (Paulo Freire). Real dialogue, rather than teaching, enables the student to interact, share insights and feel an increasing maturity, capable of integrating faith and life.
To become equal disciples, making an adult commitment to the life of the Church is the goal of the process of RCIA
10. Teamwork and use of small groups.
Teams provide safety that is effective for adults. Work with friends when possible where everyone develops. How each person feels in the group is very important. Peers enhance learning. Leaders might need to step in and help sometimes. People are free to choose groups.
Adults experience the limitations and strengths of the group, the individuals (including their own). Resources in personnel and materials are necessary so that enquiry, catechesis and praxis occur throughout.
11. Engagement of learners in what they are learning.
Learners have a chance to study and to come prepared to dialogue. When we do not use dialogue learners do indeed learn. They learn to be passive members (at least while there).
The goal is to form disciple-makers. Each step of the process is conscious of the potential of the person who is always choosing to learn.
12. Accountability: How do they know that they know?
This is a foremost principle of adult learning. Who is accountable to whom? Leaders are accountable to the trust placed in them: to convey the material required; to develop participation, praxis, reflection. Learners are responsible to their colleagues and to grow beyond the need for the current teaching; they are accountable to themselves, to recreate the content so it really is immediately useful in their context of Catholic living, in the service of the Gospel mandate
The joy and struggle experienced is the joy and struggle of the Church over the centuries. As we have come to faith in Jesus Christ as the hope and love of our living so we enable others to do the same.
Taken from Vella’s paper of 7 May 2002 and adapted to RCIA. Vella quotes extensively from Knowles, Zohar and Freire in his paper, Twelve principles ofEffective Adult Learning.
A principle, philosophers tell us, is the beginning of an action. In planning Courses we make informed decisions that will work for the learners by referring to certain education principles. I have discovered that the above principles work across cultures. These are deeply interconnected and intrinsically related to one another.
One basic assumption in all of this is that adult learning is best achieved in dialogue (the word between us).
Adults have enough life experience to be able to dialogue with any teacher about any subject and will learn new knowledge, skills and attitudes in relation to life experiences. These twelve principles begin, maintain and nurture dialogue. You will discover as you work with them that none of them can be excluded. (Vella).