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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