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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