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Adult Learning Concepts and Generalizations

Teaching people new ways to think about things is a challenge because you usually can’t see if they are really learning. There is great temptation, among instructors, to believe that a student understands what you are saying if he can recite the key ideas or objectives. This is not always true. There are still a few instructors who try to teach mostly with words without causing meaningful learning experiences. These instructors waste the student’s time as well as their own.

The definition of learning stated earlier involves a concept of learning, while on the other hand, the characteristics of learning are generalizations. A concept is a mental picture of a group of things that have common characteristics. A generalization is a person’s idea of the relationships between two or more concepts.

Concept formation. Concepts represent a group of solid objects, such as an airplane or book; or abstract ideas such as leadership and honesty. A concept is an idea about a group of things. A concept involves thinking about what it is that makes those things belong to that one group. Look at the following example:

Concepts are formed by naming and classifying things into groups. It is through experience that a person builds up his concept of the special things that make something belong to a specific group. Think for a moment of how a child forms his concept of DOG. First he observes and learns that the family collie is a DOG. This DOG has four legs, a long snout, long fur, and short ears that stand up. It also barks and appears to be friendly. He sees this thing as being quite large - larger than he is but smaller than his father. The child is now secure in his concept of DOG, that is, until he meets a bulldog. Now he must adjust his concept. He knows that dogs can be of different sizes, can have short hair as well as long fur, can have almost no tail, and may have upright ears. Then one day, he sees a Mexican hairless dog. This calls for some major changes in his concept of DOG. Many experiences later, his concept of DOG is complete. He has reached the point where he can identify a new animal as being DOG or NOT DOG.

A great deal of concept forming occurs without any help from instructors. Often, concept formation depends less upon the depth of the experience and more upon the width and amount of it. A lot of experience with many kinds of encounters is necessary to build valid concepts.

Where does the instructor fit into this formation of concepts? First, he can identify these concepts and apply them in determining student needs. The student who gets more experiences can use these experiences by listening to well presented lessons in class and comparing his experiences with other students. The key word here is “experience” - true useful concept formation must be based on a hard core of firsthand experience.

Foundations of generalizations and concepts. Generalizations, like concepts, are formed from the experience of the learner. Often, concept formation and the development of generalizations take place at the same time. Problems can arise if a student has a good generalization but a weak idea of the concepts involved. Concept formation depends on having many different kinds of experience, not the depth and importance of them. Generalizations require a lot of different experiences that were also important and had meaning to the student. The instructor’s role in this area is of increased importance, because he provides the experience.

Tips for the instructor. To have meaning in conceptual and generalization learning, the following tips are offered for the instructor:

  • Reduce the number of concepts and generalizations taught so the student can completely understand and use what he does learn. Memorizing 100 theories or principles is useless to a student if he is going to forget 95 of them as soon as he completes the class. It is better to teach only 10 theories that the student can both learn well and apply.

  • Remember that each student is different. Their previous training and their ability to learn present still another challenge to the instructor’s planning. The good instructor always remembers that the objective and goal of his lesson is for each student to learn.

Source: U.S. Navy

Copyright ©2000-2015 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Students may reproduce materials for personal study. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).