Why Passion Matters To Adult Learners

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Our life is an exhilarating journey. It is exciting to make new discoveries as we move forward and find new passions or re-discover passions we once had. But what is passion? As an educator, I find the following quote from “Life Launch – A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life,” Hudson and McLean (2006), to be very powerful: “Passion is a sense of energy for something. Your passions are your internal energy source, the fire or determination you have for reaching some destination up ahead. They tell you why you are on this journey and what you want from life. They are your push and pull.” (p.67)

We all hold core values that we are passionate about. For example, achievement, personal mastery, play, and creativity are just a few that compete for our loyalty and commitment (Hudson & Mclean, 2006). When we are passionate about personal mastery and achievement we work to learn, grow, and make new discoveries. So then what motivates an adult learner to want to learn? Alexander, Clugston and Tice (2009) tell us there are different learning contexts for adult learners. Some are motivated to learn in a personal and a practical context. They want to accomplish important educational and career goals. Some want to learn new things just to cope with life situations they face. Some are motivated to learn in an experiential context, and they want to pull things together from their experiences. Finally, some want to learn idealistically, so they can make new discoveries and explore new theories and concepts they can conceptualize, connect to, and apply to their personal and professional lives.

Through my years in the field of education I have been on both sides of the accelerated classroom. I was a student who returned to college to complete both of my degrees and am now an instructor who has taught over 100 undergraduate level courses. From that experience, my personal opinion is that each adult learner is unique, but they are all passionate about learning. They are motivated to learn and achieve their educational goals. Adults bring to the classroom a wide variety and range of experiences in terms of their working life and educational backgrounds (Wynne, 2013). This all impacts how they participate in learning.

So how do adults approach learning? Alexander, Clugston and Tice (2009) tell us learning can be approached in a casual or proactive way. When we approach learning by returning to a university, we no longer are approaching it in a casual way; we approach it with an extrodinary purpose – one that needs passion.

For example, I remember a student who was taking her very first higher education course in 2005. I remember encouraging her and seeing her build her confidence and embrace learning. She discovered new passions and let them fuel her learning. Three years later, in 2008, she graduated with her BA in Organizational Management. In 2011, this same student graduated with her MBA. In her professional career that same year, the company she worked for recognized her educational accomplishments and fine work performance, and promoted her to Vice President of Human Resources – all because of her passion.

Through countless experiences like the one above, I have come to believe that, for adult students, learning fuels passion and passion energizes learners toward their goals. Passion is a very powerful tool.

Written by: Bill Davis
Bill Davis is an instructor in the Forbes School of Business at Ashford University. He holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from St. Ambrose University, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Lewis University, and a Certified Manager Certification from The Institute for Professional Managers. Davis completed sales, human relations, and leadership courses at Dale Carnegie Training. He has over three decades experience working in the beverage industry, specifically for PepsiCo. He has also worked as a consultant for many organizations, advising in subjects like strategic planning, leadership, professional selling, and organizational change.

Alexander, M., Clugston, W., & Tice, E. (2009). Learning Online and Achieving Lifelong Goals. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint, Inc.
Hudson, F.M., & McLean, D.P. (2006). Life Launch, A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life. Santa Barbara, CA: Hudson Institute Press.
Wynne, R. (2013). Characteristics of Adult Learners. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://www.assetproject.info/learner_methodologies/before/characteristics.htm

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