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Introduction Learning has never been as important as it is in today’s chaotic society. Technology is changing more rapidly than ever before and according to the US Department of Labor, statistics from the current population survey unemployment rates are higher than they have been since 1984. (United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2009). Goal setting and benchmarking support the principles of adult learning; aid the adult learner in being more competitive in today’s job market; and help prepare adults to achieve their goals.

I will look at adult learner characteristics, why learning is important, goal setting and benchmarking and how they tie into adult learning. Adult Learners Let’s start with adult learners in general. While there are many different theories, practices, and principles to adult learning, there are some general characteristics that will help to lay the foundation of how adults learn. Malcolm Knowles, a key contributor in laying the foundation in the field of adult learning, identified the following characteristics of adult learners: •Adults are autonomous and self-directed. Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. They need to connect learning to this knowledge/experience base. •Adults are goal-oriented their readiness to learn is tied to their need to learn or reach a goal. Upon enrolling in a course, they usually know what goal they want to attain. They, therefore, appreciate an educational program that is organized and has clearly defined elements. •Adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning something.

Learning has to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities to be of value to them. •Adults are practical and task focused, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work. •As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect. (ASTD Press, 2006, pp 4-5) Another study in adult learning was done by Brundage. “In his own comprehensive survey, Brookfield (1986) discusses six ‘principles of effective practice in facilitating learning’… (voluntary participation, mutual respect, collaborative spirit, action and reflection, critical reflection, and self-direction)” (Foley Griff, 2004, pp. 86) While we can see that adults are thought to be self-directed, want learning to be relevant, and are goal/action oriented, what drives adults to learn? “Learning is central to human life – as essential as work or friendship. As the American experiential learning theorist David Kolb (1984) has noted, learning is human beings’ primary mode of adaptation: if we don’t learn we may not survive, and we certainly won’t prosper. ” (Foley & Griff, 2004, pp. 4) If we don’t continue to change and adapt, or as stated above “if we don’t learn we may not survive. For many adults, there has to be an immediate need or future goal that prompts them to learn. In today’s environment, learning can no longer be an option if we hope to compete in the job market and achieve our goals. But how do goals aid the adult learner? Goals Goal setting is one more tool in a persons’ tool box. “Goals are marker posts you drive into the future landscape between where you are and where you want to be. They focus attention productively. Goals are the future and get people going. ” (Blanchard & Bowles, 1998, pp. 170) Goals help keep learners on track, help measure progress and provide an accountability measure.

They also help learners to be more self-directed in their approach to learning. The learner can use goal setting in a variety of ways to include preparing for promotions, career development, preparing for a changing environment, i. e. , new software, or to achieve business or personal financial goals. Once the learner has established goals, benchmarking can help the learner determine a method or approach to reach those goals. Benchmarking What is benchmarking? According to Mike Laugharne , “The idea of benchmarks in education is not new. The term benchmark was first used in UK higher education by R.

K. Melton: Standards represent benchmarks with which students compare their ability and performance (Student Physician, 1957, cited in the New Oxford Dictionary). ” (Laugharne, 2002, p. 135) Webster’s Dictionary defines a bench mark as “a standard in measuring, judging quality. ” (1996). With these definitions in mind, how are benchmarks used in relation to adult learning. Benchmark studies have been used to set the standards in business and education for many years. Benchmarking on a study of European and Asian education systems substantially influenced our National Education Standards as well. Rothman, Slattery, Vranek, & Resnick, 2002) “Today little more than ten years after the idea of standards entered the public arena, 49 of the 50 states have adopted statewide content standards. ” (Rothman, et al. , 2002) Other potential uses for benchmarking include curriculum design, learner self evaluation, goal setting, defining skills against established standards, improving business practices, hiring, and training. The first step in the benchmarking process for the adult learner is to plan and identify what data you need to collect; what are you trying to improve, develop, or learn, and who you are going to benchmark against.

Some sources to consider are: •Trade publications •Professional associations •Internet •Library •Business periodicals •Conferences and workshops •People successful at what you are wanting to learn Once the planning and data collection process is done, analyze the data and determine what you can use. Which standards or best practices will work for you? Than integrate the data into your goal setting process, take action, and evaluate periodically and adjust as needed. Conclusion Given the chaotic and challenging times we are in, learning is an essential skill for adults if they chose to remain competitive in today’s society.

Benchmarking and goal setting are two processes that can help. It seems clear that setting goals and using benchmarking will help the adult learner to learn new skills or information or enhance existing performance in a wide variety of areas. Benchmarking can take an adult learner the extra step and help them remain competitive in today’s society since benchmarks are based on what the best are doing. References ASTD Press Staff. (2006). Cognition and Adult Learning Theory. Jacqueline Edlund-Braun, Maureen Soyars, ASTD Learning System Designing Learning.

Baltimore: American Society for Training & Development Blanchard, K. & Bowles, S. (1998). Gung Ho! : Turn on the people in any organization. New York: Willima Morrow and Company, Inc. Calhoun, W. & Leon, L. S. (1993). The learning edge. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. Equipped for the Future, EFF Hot Topics Newsletter, Spring (2001), Goal setting. Retrieved July 20, 2009. From Equipped for the future Website: http://eff. cls. utk. edu/default. htm Foley, & Griff. (2004). Dimensions of Adult Learning. Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education.

Haserot, P. W. (1993), Benchmarking: Learning from the best The CPA Journal 63(10), 81-83. Retrieved from Inform Global Jackson, N. (2002). QAA in Education: knowledge about QAA subject benchmarking Quality Assurance in Education, 10(3), 139-154, Retrieved from http://site. ebrary. com/lib/waldenu/Doc? id=10052734 Laugharne, M. (2002). QAA in Education: Benchmarking academic standards Quality Assurance in Education, 10(3), 134-138, Retrieved from http://site. ebrary. com/lib/waldenu/Doc? id=10052734 Rothman, R. , Slattery, J.

B. , Vranek, J. L. , & Resnick, l. b. (2002), Benchmarking and alignment of standards and testing, CSE Technical Report 566, Los Angeles, CA: Center for the Study of Evaluation, Natonal Center for Research on Standards and Student Testing, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2009). Retrieved July 23, 2009, from Database Bureau of Labor Statistics Website: http://data. bls. gov/PDQ/servlet/SurveyOutputServlet

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