Adult education – innovative didactics

Aim of the module

The aim of this module is to raise awareness on the new concepts in adult education. As SPACE project is about online collaboration we highlighted the brand-new learning theory “Connectivism” and its differences from other (adult) educational models. Teachers and trainers (as well as learners and mediators) are advised to get to know about this theory and how it is reflected in real life. The module includes a short description of main learning theories, a more detailed insight into the theory of Connectivism and a chart on the comparison of various models. Further references include examples on the application of the model and further studies on adult education.

Learning outcomes of the module

  • Identify various learning theories
  • Making teachers and trainers adopt the right learning-teaching method to their given group
  • Get acquainted with characteristics of Connectivism
  • Find motives for engagement in applying these new techniques
  • Be able to overarch the educational differences between generations



Adult education, innovative, and didactics: these are the three key words we need to understand in order to scheme the tendencies of modern pedagogical didactics in the field.

Didactics is understood as the art of teaching. It covers a wide range of factors which characterizes teaching. As of its origin having a connotation with moral issues, we tend to refer to formal education and its setting. However, as we will see, it goes beyond the normal boundaries of classroom education and especially with adults expands too many factors with a lot of focus on non-formal and informal education.

Adult education is relatively a young concept in the history of education. Traditionally education was regarded as something related to children and youngsters in classroom environment. If we consider famous pedagogues like Comenius for example, we understand that a lot of techniques, methodologies, classroom arrangements and in general pedagogic concepts were meant for the teaching of young generations in an officially organized setting.

However, adults have other backgrounds, needs, expectations and capacities than children and therefore new pedagogical methods should be applied with them. Although there have been numerous studies, researches carried out and methodologies developed for this age group, the teacher training in many countries still focuses on training pedagogues for schoolchildren and therefore adult education frequently does not get the required professional and varied attitudes.

Innovative means “introducing or using new ideas or methods” (15) ( It is not that evident how we decide what is considered to be innovative. There are many methods which are considered to be innovative although they had been introduced into pedagogy a longer time ago. There are also older didactics applied in newer fields which in the given area appears to be very innovative. In this chapter we are going to give some examples out of the tendencies that characterize modern didactics in adult education.

The framework of didactics

To understand the framework of the didactics used by teachers, we need to get an insight into the various learning theories in pedagogy. Learning theories determine a lot of factors in teaching. The way a teacher things about its students learning styles and concepts is reflected in the learning theory. There are various views and categorization about learning theories. The most frequently mentioned ones are behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism and (lately) connectivism.


  1. Behaviourism is interested in looking at behaviour and observable changes. Therefore behaviorism in instruction focusses on generating new behavior patterns.
  2. Cognitivism is interested in looking at the thought processes behind the behavior. Therefore cognitivist learning theory stresses acquisition of (including reorganization) of cognitive structures.
  3. Constructivism claims that knowledge is constructed through the interplay of existing knowledge and individual (or social) experience. (source)
  4. Connectivism is a brand-new approach, which claims that learning “is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.” (16)


Out of the above four main learning theories Behaviorism and Cognitivism are regarded to be more traditional approaches to epistemology and learning-teaching, while Constructivism and Connectivism are regarded to be more modern and innovative approaches. However, we cannot claim that one is better than the other in all circumstances. Pedagogues will always need to consider their target audience, their possibilities, resources and materials and many other factors to decide which pattern they can adopt to their present teaching “mission”.

As SP4CE project deals with the collaboration in virtual environment with a brand- new open innovation aspect, we though it important to highlight connectivism and focus on its more innovative aspects.

Connectivism in a nutshell


Connectivism is called a learning theory for a digital age. It seeks to explain complex learning in a rapidly changing technological and networked world. Knowledge is born and gets obsolete so fast, that getting to know facts and information is overcome by adopting to the changing knowledge base and learn how and where to get updated information and knowledge. According to this model the main channel of knowledge and information change is networking. It is important to identify connections and patterns and make a link among various nodes of knowledge bases. “The connections that make us able to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing” (17)

George Siemens, the main propagator and ideologist of connectivism lists the main features of Connectivism as of the following:

Principles of connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.


Comparison between various learning models

The challenge for the teachers, trainers and moderators of today is to use the potentials of new teaching tools including dominantly ICT –offered tools and also to be updated to the new learning styles and demands of the learners. It is possible that learners are not prepared fully yet to use modern technology and to gain and process new information in ways Connectivism would offer. This is why it is essential that a teacher be prepared also in theory about various learning styles and models and adapt to its audience. Below we introduce George Siemens’s chart on various learning models to help teachers and trainers orientate themselves:


Property Behaviourism Cognitivism Constructivism Connectivism
How learning occurs Black box—observable behaviour main focus Structured, computational Social, meaning created by each learner (personal) Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns
Influencing factors Nature of reward, punishment, stimuli Existing schema, previous experiences Engagement, participation, social, cultural Diversity of network, strength of ties, context of occurrence
Role of memory Memory is the hardwiring of repeated experiences—where reward and punishment are most influential Encoding, storage, retrieval Prior knowledge remixed to current context Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks
How transfer occurs Stimulus, response Duplicating knowledge constructs of “knower” Socialization Connecting to (adding) nodes and growing the network (social/conceptual/biological)
Types of learning best explained Task-based learning Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving Social, vague

(“ill defined”)

Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources


Table 2.3.1 What is connectivism? George Siemens, September 12, 2009



The challenge for today’s teachers, trainers and moderators is to consider the changing environments and methods of learning and to adapt their teaching methods accordingly. This requires a totally new point of view of many factors of teaching, including the role of the teacher, classroom arrangement, the role and responsibilities of learners, as well as aims and objectives and required outcomes of learning and many more.


In today’s teaching (and in SPACE project) the special challenges of collaboration are:

  • Adults learning with an older mind-set in a modern learning environment
  • Generational gap between learners (both students and business people) and mentors in any direction
  • Technologies used which do not offer the technological background required for new type of learning and collaboration.