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Assumptions About Adult Learning

Merriam and Bierema state and explain six assumptions concerning adult learning. Among the assumptions is shifting adults’ self-concept from dependent to self-directing as they grow and mature. This supposition explains that as individuals grow, they tend to be more independent and learning becomes self-directing. Instructors should ensure that instructions are student-centred. Another assumption is that an adult’s willingness to learn depends on the developmental tasks of their social roles. The various social responsibilities of an adult motivate them to learn particular things. This is closely tied to the second assumption on experiences. A certain experience can trigger an individual to attend a particular training for professional development.

Another assumption presented by the authors is that an individual’s readiness to learn is driven by internal rather than external motivation. The supposition holds that many adult learners are internally motivated to attend particular activities for professional development. These motives include increased productivity and job satisfaction. However, some professional development learning is externally motivated. For instance, if a certain job position requires a particular academic level or is mandated by the government, the employer may be forced to initiate professional development activities. Despite this, the instructor should align the training program with the learners’ needs and interests to make learning internally motivated.

Professional development focuses on teaching workers the skills required for success in their careers. Recently, we had a workplace diversity training seminar for three days at my workplace. The program was optional, although the manager insisted that it would benefit us in our individual and professional lives. The program initiators were severely blended in terms of race, religion, gender and age. We had young and old program leaders, Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, Christians, Hindus and Muslims. The outlook encouraged most of us to attend the training and complete the three-day session. During the sessions, we learnt the importance of diversity in the workplace and ways to ensure maximum diversity in recruitment, training and development among employees to reap the benefits accrued. During the professional development activities, we participated in role-plays, simulations and story-telling sessions to expound on our understanding of diversity in the workplace.

The training seminar addressed the first assumption on adult learning, which states that an adult’s self-concept shifts from dependent to independent self-directing as they mature. The seminar hall was well-ventilated, spacious and with comfortable chairs. The sitting arrangement was circular as we learnt to face each other while the instructors were at the front of the room. The training was student-centred as the instructors repeatedly asked us to write down what we would like to learn on the three-day session before the training day. In the middle of the lessons, we held random discussions to talk about our experiences with a diversified or non-diversified environment in the past. I realized that many of my colleagues were victims of stereotyping either due to race or religion. The sharing created an environment for collaboration and mutual trust, ensuring quality professional development.

Professional development addressed the third assumption that “the readiness of an adult to learn is closely related to the developmental tasks of his or her social role.” (Merriam & Bierema, 2013). It is quite difficult to understand that racial and ethnic minorities undergo stereotyping and discrimination in the workplace as a child. However, as you grow up, you learn the existence of such heinous things, and sometimes, we fall victims during our job hunting periods. The workplace diversity program came at the right time within our organization. The company was previously involved in a scandal of looking down upon women and Muslims. The HR denied Muslim women from reporting to work with henna paintings on their hands and feet. Muslims usually get these paintings during various celebrations. Thus, it made it hard for them to attend the celebrations as they knew the consequences awaiting them at the workplace. The workplace diversity program attendance and readiness to learn was to gain more insights on the significance of respecting people’s cultures and demonstrating cultural competency in the workplace.

The professional development successfully addressed the fifth assumption. During the seminar, I discovered that the primary benefits of achieving workplace diversity are internal, especially among the employees. Diversity allows employees to learn new insights and cultures, enhancing their competency and respect for other people’s backgrounds. This results in increased job satisfaction that facilitates career development. Employees feel appreciated and valued, positively affecting their performance and overall productivity in the organization. Therefore, the employees had internal motives for participating in adult learning. However, as Merriam and Bierema (2013) put it, “there are times when our employer requires us to participate in particular workplace training programs…when mandated by the government.” The government requires organizations to observe the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requirements on diversity. Therefore, the training could be based on the attainment of this requirement. Nonetheless, the instructors ensured to relate the content to our needs and interests. They did this by ensuring it was student-centred. This resulted in our readiness to learn being more internally inspired, leading to quality professional development.


Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2013). Adult learning: Linking theory and practice. John Wiley & Sons.


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