Small group facilitators and individual counselors are in a unique position to either encourage or discourage spiritual, emotional or intellectual growth in adults. In order to maximize this opportunity for transformation in the individual or group, we can utilize three essential assumptions that will undergird and guide our approach to teaching and counseling. Adhering to these three principles will help you to bring out the very best in those who participate.
The first assumption is based upon the idea that as adults mature they become less dependent on others for learning. Teachers and counselors may default to a pedagogical style of teaching or counseling that condescends information downward because of the presupposition that the participants are lacking knowledge that you have. The inherent problem with this approach is that it discourages participation due to a dominant monologue by the facilitator or counselor. This style of teaching and counsel encourages learned helplessness and dependency because the higher levels of learning are not tapped into through open discussion. The condescension of information from the counselor, or facilitator does not encourage a partnership in learning. This extra time and effort for open dialogue will pay big dividends in regard to increased introspection and confidence levels in the participants.
The second assumption is often overlooked when facilitating adult learning. It presupposes that adults enter educational activities with life experience and intact skills, which contribute considerably to their learning experience. Encouraging participation helps the learners to connect with the new information. The connection to the the new information is derived from prior skills or experiences that they have already mastered. Traditional instruction relies heavily on monologue and largely ignores dialogue, which tends to create a lack of context for understanding the new information. The learner can lack context and/or schema which increases the complexity and difficulty in learning. Monologue decreases participation and independent thought, which forces most of the learners into learning with limited context. When the learner does not have a chance to talk it out, you lessen the amount of contextually based higher learning. In this scenario the learner essentially builds the skill or concept from the ground up because the verbal reasoning process is ignored.
The third assumption is adults are motivated to learn when they experience a need to know something, or to change a life situation. This is a primary source of dialogue that propels learning in the small group or individual counseling session. Sharing their experience and questions will increase participation considerably. The topic takes on added importance when the learners are afforded the opportunity to ask specific questions or share their relevant experiences. The shared experiences are likely to trigger additional questions and perspectives that increase learning exponentially.
Remember these three assumptions as you go forward in your teaching or counseling endeavor. We all have the ability to encourage or discourage learning contingent upon the approach that we adopt. Although every group and individual possesses unique differences, the one constant is the need for relevance in learning. Consequently, adult learners have the end desire of applying new skills and knowledge to do something they could not do before.