Benchmarks and Goal Setting for the Adult Learner
In the field of adult education, goal setting is a very important part of ensuring that learners get what they need out of the process. Many learners are able to set their own goals; however, it is equally beneficial for the instructor to aid the students in goal setting and in achieving those goals. This post addresses some of the benefits of goal setting for adult learners as well as some ways in which instructors can help learners set and achieve their goals.
While setting goals (and achieving those goals) is very important to adult learners, goal setting can be somewhat meaningless without initially establishing benchmarks against which progress can be measured. Indeed, benchmarks should be considered in conjunction with goal setting. Moreover, benchmarks should be taken before, during, and after goal setting. This will enable the students to see progress toward their goals, which will help them to stay motivated throughout the learning process. Because of the importance of benchmarking, this paper addresses the topic of benchmarking first.
In fitness centers across the country, the question can be heard repeatedly: “So, how much do you bench?” In other words, people are curious to see just how much weight they can press while on a bench. While there are undoubtedly bragging rights to such behavior, it could also be said that this is a way of establishing the level at which someone performs as well as setting new goals for the future. This is the concept of benchmarking. Determine what mark you have reached on the bench (benchmarking). Then, determine what your next mark should be and how you will get there (goal setting).
The process that occurs in fitness centers across the country can also be applied to adult learning. In order for adults to stay motivated to learn, they must have benchmarks, and they must set goals. According to Cohen (2003), having benchmarks provides adult learners with the possibility of change. When there is an actual standard against which learning can be measured, adult learners have the ability to personally measure their own skills and development. When the adult learners start to see this progress, they can take a more active role in setting goals for themselves.
With benchmarks set, adult learners are now ready to set some goals. This provides the learners with some structure, which increases their chances to improve their own attitudes, skills, and knowledge. There is much literature written about goal setting, yet this post focuses on goal setting in Corporate Training Programs. What are the benefits of goal setting in adult education? How can instructors aid adult learners with setting and achieving their goals? These are the questions that will be answered in this section.
Adult learners need to set goals to stay motivated. One of the most valuable benefits of this is that goal setting can enable adult learners to become lifelong learners (Dynan, Kate, & Rhee, 2008). While it would seem apparent that adult learners have already committed themselves to lifelong learning because they are continuing their education as adults, this is often simply a means to an end. By setting tangible goals (and achieving them), adult learners can see that learning is something that need not have an end. Instead, it can be a lifelong process, and it can set the learners up for success in the future.
Leondari (2007) refers to this phenomenon as our possible selves. She believes that goal setting is a future-oriented process. In other words, it keeps learners moving toward a better possible future for themselves. This is yet another benefit of goal setting for adult learners: goal setting enables adult learners to visualize a better future for themselves and to strive to make that possible self a reality.
Adult educators can help adult learners turn that future into a reality. Oftentimes, adult learners might struggle with writing goals, or their goals might be vague. This is an area in which adult educators can be of great assistance. King and Hicks (2007) describe a process that they call elaboration by which adult educators can assist learners with setting goals that are less vague. That in turn can make it easier for the learners to actually achieve those goals and become the lifelong learners they can be.
Benchmarking and goal setting are two sides of the same coin for adult learners. By knowing where they are, adult learners have the structure through which they can increase their own potential. Then, they can set goals that will enable them to become lifelong learners, to see a better future for themselves, and elaborate on those goals to achieve their very best.
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Cohen, N. H. (2003, Winter). The journey of the principles of adult mentoring inventory. Adult Learning, 14(1), 4-12.
Dynan, L., Cate, T., & Rhee, K. (2008, Nov/Dec). The impact of learning structure on students’ readiness for self-directed learning. Journal of Education for Business, 84(2), 96-100.
King, L. A., & Hicks, J. A. (2007, Summer). Lost and found possible selves: Goals, development, and well-being. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 114, 27-37.
Leondari, A. (2007, Summer). Future time perspective, possible selves, and academic achievement. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 114, 17-26.