The Ten Commandments of Adult Learning: Why is Learning Hard Work?

Adult Learning

The more we learn, the easier learning gets, right? That makes sense, but it’s not necessarily true. Claude Messier—a physiology professor of the University of Ottawa— was quoted in an article published by the Scientific American saying that “the brain is a lazy bum.” Let me give that some context. The article reports that the brain runs on about twelve watts of power. That’s less than a quarter of what it takes to turn on a light bulb. On the one hand, that’s extremely efficient, but really all the brain is doing is conserving as much energy as possible. It doesn’t like to focus on anything for too long and doesn’t like to take in more information than it needs to. Thus, learning is hard work; our brains want to conserve energy. The brain is picky about what it wants to learn, and that’s truer for adults.

Adult Learning

The old adage “you can’t teach a dog new tricks” isn’t completely accurate, but it is more difficult. Learning is especially hard work for adults because our brains stop wanting to learn anything new if it doesn’t seem important. Thus, training or educating adults, like for a new job, can present challenges.

The Ten Commandments

It’s important to be upfront with adult students that learning will require effort on their part. The Ten Commandments of Adult Learning give some shared language to the students and teacher for what that effort will look like. While the commandments are directed toward the student, it’s equally important for educators/trainers to know them.

  1. How well you do reflects your attitude and your methods. It’s not based on your intelligence or raw ability.
  1. Nobody can teach you as well as you can teach yourself.
  1. It’s okay to make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of trying anything new. Mistakes are the foundation of learning.
  1. Learning is not about getting good grades. Even if you’ll be tested, learning is about improvement and what you come away with.
  1. Questions lead to learning. Their purpose is to make you think.
  1. Sometimes you may find the subject boring. If so, get involved. Pay close attention. Try to find something interesting in it. It’s more enjoyable to be actively involved in learning a boring subject than to passively suffer through it.
  1. You’re here to learn how to think for yourself, not just repeat what you think we want to hear. Don’t just memorize the information. Think about how you’ll use it every day.
  1. Learning can be very challenging and sometimes difficult. However, succeeding at learning is rewarding.
  1. Going through the motions and doing what you are assigned isn’t enough. It isn’t even close to enough. Take charge of your future. Ask questions. Explore. Discuss what you are learning with others.
  1. A powerful way to learn is to teach. Teach others what you’ve learned; it’s the fastest way to become an expert in a subject.

Sound Easy?

No, and it isn’t supposed to be. Learning is hard work. In fact, thinking burns calories. However, learning is also rewarding. Things that come easy usually aren’t worth their weight.