Principles of Adult Learning: the Motivation Principle

COOPERATIONArticle by Dr J.P. Nel, MD Mentornet

There are numerous theories about motivation and they are all partially true. People are motivated by motivators, but I don’t quite buy the story that hygiene factors (Herzberg) do not motivate people. Not long ago I offered our researchers R6,000.00 each to do a certain job. None of them was interested However, when I offered them R30,000.00 each for the same job, they all accepted. It is also true that there are different levels of motivation, or needs, as Maslov told us. It is also true that people sometimes deliberately sabotage their own performance just to please others, as Adams observed.

Then there were (past tense because it has been decades since I heard anybody claim this to be the case) academics who told us that you can’t motivate people – you can only create an atmosphere in which the person can motive him or herself. Who cares where it starts?

Very well, let’s accept that your job as an educator is to create an atmosphere that is conducive to good student performance. This, in my opinion, applies equally to children and adults. At school I performed much better for teachers who treated me with respect than with teachers who ruled by fear. I need to admit, though, that I performed better with teachers who ruled by fear that those who did not care – the ones who appeared not to notice that you actually exist.

Let’s finish this discussion by getting back to adult students, because they are the ones with whom we work. Adult students are motivated by empowering them. This means that you need to show that you trust and respect them; you need to allow them to make their own decisions; you need to show that you believe in them and you need to be there to help them when they make mistakes.

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Principles of Adult Learning: the Individualisation Principle

evette individualiseArticle written by Dr J.P. Nel, MD Mentornet


The individualisation principle postulates that every student learns at his or her own pace and has his or her own particular aptitude for learning. These differences should be taken into consideration when offering learning as well as when assessing students.

Some argue that it is discriminatory to group students according to ability and to offer individual assistance to “slower” students. There is an element of truth in this argument. However, not catering for the individual needs of each student can be unfair towards both the “slow” and the gifted students. It, furthermore, can lead to less effective learning than would have been the case if each student was treated according to his or her abilities.

As far as assessment is concerned – we should not underestimate the value that assessment can add to the learning process. Especially summative assessment is used to determine to what extent a student learned and if the student can be promoted to a higher level of learning. Successful students will receive certificates, and for some it might mean the end of the line as far as formal learning is concerned. Therefore, assessment is often the last chance that the educator has to teach students something more – the opportunity should not be wasted.

One should keep in mind that students are not robots – they have emotions and emotions can hamper or promote learning. Observation tells me that adults are more able to control their emotions than children. However, even adults are influenced by their emotions. How students experience learning and the way in which they are treated can have a huge influence on their motivation and, therefore, learning performance.

In closing, the educator should consider the emotions of students for creating an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, i.e. to ensure that they perform in accordance with their potential. This brings us back to a scaffolding approach to learning. In terms of the individualisation principle, Scaffolding can be used to:

  • reduce the scope for learner failure,
  • enable learners to accomplish tasks that they would not be able to achieve on their own,
  • move learners to a new and improved zone of understanding, and
  • encourage learners to work independently.
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An Open Letter to the student who wish to enroll for the Bachelor’s degree in Occupational and Vocational Learning

ETHNIC GRADUATIONWe are delighted at the number of people who already indicated that they would like to enrol for the Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Learning (not the official title). However, it has come to my attention that some students who completed the certificate(s) or diploma in OD ETD are under the impression that they would receive credits for these qualifications and that they, therefore, will need to do only one or two additional years for the degree. This is not the case.

You need to understand that the degree course is on a higher level and covers a wider spectrum than the ODETD qualifications. Furthermore, we will focus much more on the theory and philosophy of occupational learning in the degree course while the ODETD courses focus more on practical work. The degree, therefore, focuses more on the ontology (how we know things) and the epistemology (what we know) while the OD ETD certificates and diploma focus more on the procedures of occupational and vocational learning.

You need to keep the following in mind when deciding of you would like to enrol for the degree:

  1. You will write end of the year exams on every module and they will not be open book. This means that you will need to study.
  2. You will need to submit a mini thesis on every module at the end of every year.
  3. You will study for at least three years.
  4. You will receive substantial guidance and support and you will attend one five day study school per month for eleven months per year. You will need to do a practical assignment at your workplace during the remaining three weeks of each month for ten months per year.
  5. You will receive a laptop computer when you start your studies and all your practical assignments, formative assessments and books will be loaded onto your computer.
  6. You will still enjoy lunch at Mentornet during study schools as when you did the OD ETD courses.
  7. You will have access to our online learning platform and you may work in the library, which will be arranged like an internet café, whenever you wish.
  8. Your course fee will cover your books, exams, registration, enrolment, laptop computer, study schools, work on the online platform and guidance and support and certification. There will be no additional costs apart from the course fee, which will be most competitive.

Students who did OD ETD courses through Mentornet in the last six years will feel that they are repeating work that they already did during their first year of study towards the degree. This is because we piloted some of our books for the degree course with you. You, therefore, received much more learning content than the unit standards required, although we did not test knowledge or skills outside the unit standards in the exams. The advantage of this is that you will feel comfortable with especially your first year of study.

I would appreciate it if you could indicate if the above changes your mind, i.e. that you are no longer interested in enrolling for the degree course. Those who did not indicate that they would like to enrol and wishes to do so now, are asked to please let Evette know by fax or email if this is the case.

Kind regards,

Dr J.P. Nel, MD Mentornet


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Can Occupational Learning Form the Foundation of a Bachelor’s Degree?

NWU FOTOWell what do you know? A professor at a university wrote me an email the other day in which he professes that occupational learning can never be the foundation for a degree course. Well, I happened to have studied occupational learning towards my second doctoral thesis. How then, can it not be the foundation for a lower level qualification?

Let met state this unequivocally – there is no topic or subject under the sun that cannot serve as the foundation for academic learning on any level. Even topics such as potato cultivation, taxi driving, prostitution, and religion can be studied at any level on the NQF.

Perhaps the professor does not understand the difference between epistemology and methodology. Or perhaps the fact that occupational work is almost always practical, i.e. aimed at the improvement of methods, confused him. We should really learn to think deeper than just the basic meaning of words in a dictionary.

Occupational learning is founded on the philosophy of occupational and vocational work, and those who offer occupational or vocational learning should know the epistemology on which they rest. In fact, the true expert in occupational learning will even go one step further by studying the ontology, i.e. the origins of occupational learning.

One will not focus on the methodology of occupational learning in a bachelor’s degree course, although a responsible learning institution will start with the ontology, move on to the epistemology and, ultimately, link the origins (ontology) to the philosophy and knowledge (epistemology) to the  actual work (methodology). This is the only way in which students can achieve comprehension, which is necessary for foundational competence.

Many academics at universities still support a positivist approach to learning. Perhaps they do not realise this, but their thinking patterns are so rigid and stereotype that they can’t see that science has moved on, that we are now in the era of post-positivism. I am referring to these learning paradigms because they fit my arguments, not because they are the only philosophical perspectives that are still valid for research and education purposes.

In closing, an integrated approach to learning is necessary, meaning that students should be able to move from occupational and vocational learning to academic learning; educators offering occupational or vocational learning cannot do so if they are not academically prepared to understand the knowledge and philosophy of what they are offering. The learning offered by universities run the risk of becoming obsolete and redundant unless academics at universities rapidly understand that they can no longer just do research which often adds no value to the industry and offer courses based on old knowledge and outdated methodology.

Article by Dr J.P. Nel, MD Mentornet

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The Principles of Adult Learning: the Totality Principle

THE WAY FORWARDLast week I listed the principles of adult learning. Here we will discuss the totality principle.

The totality principle is closely connected with the Gestalt psychology which endeavours to study man in his totality. We often apply this by following a holistic approach to learning and assessment. This implies that we need to teach learners knowledge as it applies in his or her work environment. People learn much better if the learning content is contextualised. Contextualisation refers to the place where the person learns and works.

Ian Webster mentioned that most, if not all the principles, also apply to childhood learning, i.e. pedagogics (as opposed to adult learning, or andragogics). He is right as far as this principle is concerned and we will check, as we go along, if it is also true for the other principles.

Learning should also be articulated to the profile of the learner. Learning methodology like the building block approach (gradually moving from the known to the unknown) and scaffolding approach (providing intensive guidance and support). Articulation also means that the learning should be offered in the language with which the learner is most comfortable.

In assessment a holistic approach implies that one should not judge performance or knowledge in terms of rigid criteria only. In the case of recognition of prior learning, for example, one will find that different candidates will probably have vastly different previous exposure to much the same knowledge and skills. One should, therefore, judge competence by testing if the candidate meets the purpose of the learning programme, be it a module, subject, craft or whatever.

In summary, the totality principle means that we should consider the whole person, including intellectual, physical and emotional abilities. Learning and assessment should be flexible and offered in the context in which the individual will use or apply the knowledge and skills. Learning should also be articulated to the profile and needs of the individual.

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With friends like these, who needs enemies?

ANGER IMAGEWritten by Dr J.P. Nel

I read the report by the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution regarding the “Restraint of Protest on or near University Campuses”. Admittedly I am not qualified as a legal expert. However, seeing that the constitutional rights of people are regarded as almost sacred by the people who prepared the report, I guess I can air my views as a citizen of the country.

One can probably agree with 90% of what is written in the report. However, it is the remaining 10% that causes damage and instability. Students have the right to protest, but something is clearly wrong when the execution of their rights lead to damages in excess of more than a billion rand.

Let’s look at some clauses in the report.

Clause 6, page 2.  “Universities are under a constitutional obligation to tolerate demonstration, picket and assembly.” No mention is made of the resulting injury to people and damage to property. Is that also their constitutional right?

Clause 21, page 9. “Even disruptive conduct can fall within the protection of section 17 of the Constitution.” It is, indeed, a sad day when the purpose for which universities are established, namely to educate people, is destroyed by rights which are no more than entitlements that is seriously damaging to the futures of all students, including those who protest, disrupt, destroy and, recently, rape.

Clause 22, page 9. “… a ‘never again’ Constitution, meant to redress the injustices of the past,…”. South Africa is in a crisis on almost all levels of society, including the economy, education, freedom of movement, and now also legislation. Emotional remarks like this do nothing to promote stability, cooperation and trust which are desperately needed if we are to rid ourselves of the injustices of the past.

Clause 27, page 10. “Prior restraint of protest is generally only permissible where it can be shown that there is an intention to protest violently. The mere assertion that the protest may destroy property or disturb the peace is not sufficient. “And so the poor police are required to react, never to prevent. This is a myopic and dangerous stance, one for which the writers of the repots should be held responsible if a university is set on fire or if anybody is murdered or raped during student protest.

Clause 29, page 10. “However, it remains an open question whether culturally symbolic artefacts carried purely for display or with other non-violent intent, such as ceremonial weapons, or knobkieries, may be carried in a protest.” How would one know in advance why the artefacts are being carried and what the intentions of the carriers are? The same applies to clause 31, page 11.

Clause 34, page 12. “There is no notice requirement when the gathering is spontaneous.”  This leaves the door wide open for protesters to simply claim that a protest, for which permission was not granted, was a spontaneous one.

Clause 59, page 17. “The anti-protest order was being used not only against students but also to limit academic freedom of the staff of the University.” Rioting, damaging property and injuring individuals are not academic freedom.

Clause 74, page 21. “Prior restraint against speech should never be granted, unless the interdict specifies the exact statements to be enjoined…” So, I guess hate speech is also fine.

In closing, I always wonder what the agenda of people preparing reports like this really is. Surely it cannot be to promote stability, employment, education and economic growth that South Africa desperately needs. Students need education. I agree that those who perform well should be encouraged with financial incentives. However, destruction and giving them an excuse not to study hard can’t add any value.

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Name and shame

SCALE 1Private learning providers previously suggested that we name and shame people who do not act honestly. Lynel mentioned in her stacks of communications that the QCTO will in future not allow accredited providers to help others. I posted a name and shame article on Skills Universe last week, which was probably removed because I never saw it and nobody responded to it. Mentornet always helped emerging providers because we feel that, seeing that they get the contracts, the least we can do is to provide them with quality training materials. Believe me, it does not make financial sense and the problems that it creates for you far outweigh the satisfaction that you get from helping others. This week we received the following email (names deleted for obvious reasons) from a learner who attended a course offered by Don Leffler (name intentionally added):

Dear Sir /Madam

I am ……………………………, Lecturer at ……….. TVET COLLEGE, ………… CAMPUS . In 2015 July from the 06,07,08,09, during school holidays we attended an Assessor training Course with my colleagues for ………. Tvet College , Venue: …………. Campus and it was presented by 2 ladies and up until now we have not yet received our certificates and there is no communication whatsoever. So I would like to check how far is the process of issuing us with the certificates. We have contacted our HR OFFICE and they said they have not received anything for the ASSESSOR only for MODERATOR.

Yours Faithfully ………………………………

We investigated the matter. Not only did  Don Leffler not pay us for the training materials that he purchased from us – he also never arranged assessment or verification, with the result that the learners are stuck with worthless certificates.

Now I agree with the QCTO – we will not help any learning providers who are not accredited in future.

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