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Old-School vs. New-School Learning: Which Do You Prefer? (You Might Be Surprised!)


By Amy Gibson

Learning occurs every day, but when we think of learning, many of us have a nostalgic association to childhood experiences. Your instant recollection is likely to be of a musty classroom or an old acquaintance.

When considering our current lives as adults, however, we are most likely to link learning to job-skills training or post-secondary studies.

Photos: KTA

Learning occurs every day, but when we think of learning, many of us have a nostalgic association to childhood experiences.

Usually we are unaware that life is constantly changing our perceptions and processes for learning. We move through life without realizing that natural daily experiences alter us as learners.

As our natural environment changes, so might we as students.

Learning Preferences

Before going any further, answer the following questions:

1. If you were to choose a learning experience, which would you choose?

A. Hands-on practice
B. Classroom lecture

2. Which type of graded assignment appeals to you more?

A. Project
B. Written Report

3. Which type of content would you prefer to learn?

A. Lessons that apply to my life or work
B. General lessons that cover a broad range of topics

We’ll get into more about your responses later, but without any analysis, you can probably now generate an immediate response to the question at the beginning of this blog: Do you prefer an old-school or new-school style of learning? 

If your gut reaction is to support “old school” learning, you may imagine a classroom that represents simpler times. You are not alone with this instinct.

Not all new-school foundations include the use of technology, but technology certainly determines some of the need for change in learning approaches.

Many consider new curriculum foundations to be controversial, in part because they are foreign to our concept of traditional learning. In schools, rote math memorization, handwriting and reading aloud are practices of the past commonly replaced with an emphasis on mental math, keyboard efficiency and reading centers.  

On the other hand, new-school enthusiasts might imagine futuristic, technology-driven interactions. Not all new-school foundations include the use of technology, but technology certainly determines some of the need for change in learning approaches.

The real driving force of new-school learning philosophies is survival in today’s demanding and ever-changing environment. 

As discussed in my previous blog post, the growing need for constant training and retraining of job skills is based largely on the rapid changes we are experiencing in the present time. As resources evolve, our world changes, requiring us to change with it or be left ill-equipped.

So, is it more important to feel comfortable or to thrive? Newer learning initiatives are intended to target both. The more competence you have responding to constant demands, the more adaptable you will be and the more likely it is you will succeed in life.

Learning as an Adult

Now back to the quiz. As you may have guessed, the “A” answers represent new-school learning applications. The “B” answers support old-school practices.

As resources evolve, our world changes, requiring us to change with it or be left ill-equipped.

There is plenty of research that has resulted in general findings about adult learners. Here is what we know (among other characteristics):

  1.  Adult learners are motivated by a need.

Adults choose to learn in response to a motivation. That motivation might be the need to advance or maintain a career, or to improve a personal or professional lifestyle. Regardless, the motivation is a personal need—it is something that relates directly to the learner’s life.

  1.  Adult learners are experienced.

Adults enter the learning environment already knowing something about life and work. They are not interested in spending time on lessons that are irrelevant or not beneficial for their time. Adults want to be recognized for what they know and do not want to be insulted by wasting time on the obvious.

  1.  Adult learners are self-directed.

Adults are used to having control of their own decisions and their own environment. They prefer to come to their own conclusions by exploring and applying a concept. They find decisions to be more valid when they are included in the decision-making process.

Surprising Results

With these characteristics in mind, it seems that the newer “new-school” educational theories are much more suitable for the typical adult learner. 

The new learning environment would support peer collaboration, skill development, project-based work and problem-solving. All are practices that align with adult learning preferences.

The new learning environment supports peer collaboration, skill development, project-based work and problem-solving—all of which align with adult learning preferences.

So answer the question again, which do you prefer? 

Perhaps your answer remains the same; perhaps you have wavered. Regardless, I hope that some sort of insight has been shed on newer learning initiatives … which I, personally, prefer.

However, if you are still determined to revisit a time when the cursive alphabet bordered the chalkboard, I will share with you one of my favorite proverbs:

“Let go or be dragged.”


Amy Gibson

Amy Gibson is the manager of training and education services at KTA-Tator Inc. in Pittsburgh, PA. She runs KTA’s coatings and safety training programs and provides curriculum and instructional design consultation. Amy is a master trainer and primary administrator for NCCER (founded as The National Center for Construction Education and Research), and she manages and maintains KTA’s International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) accreditation. Amy has a master’s in instructional leadership and is certified in online instruction. Training and Certification covers a range of practical topics related to continuing education and learning opportunities to improve your own skills or that of your workforce. Contact Amy.



Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Education; North America; Program/Project Management; Worker training; Coatings education

Comment from Catherine Brooks of Eco-Strip, (4/8/2016, 9:54 AM)

Good Reminders!!!

Comment from José Avendaño, (4/13/2016, 6:50 AM)

Great article! Three key points: Adult learners are motivated by a need, are experienced and are self-directed.

Comment from Gary Burke, (12/15/2016, 3:00 PM)

Nice to see the Devilbiss sign over the spray booths. This is the company I work for!

Comment from Marco Fabio Ramenzoni, (11/14/2018, 5:10 AM)

Thank you Amy! It made me think... (or re-think)

Comment from Gil Rogers, (11/21/2018, 10:43 AM)

I agree on most points; one area I find disconcerting though is the tendency to think psychometric skills can be acquired simply through on-line learning and testing. A one week course does not replace a 3 or 4 year apprenticeship!

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