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Humanist Learning Methods Analysis

Teresa E. Sampson

Trevecca Nazarene University at Nashville, TN


Humanist Learning Methods Analysis

In this paper, I will provide an analysis of some of the humanist learning methods. The

first section begins with the purpose and manifestation of humanism. Next, I will discuss the

contributions from two learning theorists on humanism. The influences of humanism on adult

learning in higher education will also be touched on. I will provide a real-world example of

where humanism for self-directed learning was used to improve learning for new members of the

London Fire Brigade. The final section will summarize self-actualization for learners.

Purpose and Manifestation of Humanism

According to Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007), humanism is concerned with

the individual learner and their potential for growth and development. The responsibility of

learning is placed on the learner, giving them ultimate control of their development. Although

the authors primary focus on the application of humanism in andragogy, it also has a significant

benefit to the pedagogy environment. Learners are exposed to some aspects of humanism in

formal education environments; however, the perspective of self-directed learning that occurs

every day is paramount to this theory. Merriam, Caffarrella, and Baumgartner (2007), discuss

the idea of transformational learning that occurs when a learner experiences a complete change

of thought process because of the introduction of a different perspective.

Contributions from Learning Theorists

In this section, I will briefly cover the contributions from two learning theorists on

humanism, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.

Abraham Maslow and Humanism

Abraham Maslow is most known for his influence in humanistic motivation (Wilson and

Madsen, 2008). Maslow worked with Kurt Goldstein and introduced his idea of self-

actualization in 1943 (Wilson and Madsen, 2008). The emphasis of this idea was that of helping

people reach the point of self-fulfillment so they achieve their ultimate potential (Wilson and

Madsen, 2008). From the standpoint of humanism, Maslows contribution with his hierarchy of

needs, the focus is on creating an environment for learning that is centered on the needs of the

individual learner rather than the content to be learned (Wilson and Madsen, 2008).

Carl Rogers and Humanism

According to Khatib, Sarem and Hamidi (2013), Carl Rogers focused on the humanism

aspect of self-actualization. Rogers approached learning from a student-centered perspective and

moves the focus from teaching to that of learning (Khatib, Sarem and Hamidi, 2013). Khatib,

Sarem and Hamidi (2013), state that, He underlines relevance, participation, negotiation, self-

assessment, the centrality of the self-actualizing potential, and the reach for personal

manifestation and creativity in fulfilling individual learning needs (p. 47).

Influences on Adult Learning in Higher Education

In this section, I will discuss the influence of humanism on adult learning in higher

education. Mahani (2012) emphasizes that higher education in the United States already

encourages students to think, reason and write critically. The only missing piece, according to

Mahani (2012), is contemplation. This would encourage students to exhibit mindfulness to

improve learning by using personal insight. Experiential learning, as mentioned by Mahani

(2012), promotes lifelong learning. Mahani (2012) posits that this focus creates a learning

environment that combines the experience of the learner, personal insight, behavior, and

reasoning. Incorporating the final recommended element of compassion into the learning

process encourages students to use their heart and to develop emotions related to the topic,

(Mahani, 2012). Mahani (2012) states that, there are six stages that one must follow while

pursuing contemplative practice: 1) respect, 2) gentleness, 3) intimacy, 4) participation, 5)

vulnerability, and 6) transformation (p. 218). The last stage of transformation is the point that

the student is completely aware and achieves the level of contemplation (Mahani, 2012). The

ultimate goal of transformational learning in andragogy, or higher education, is to promote a

change in the students perspective on the given topic, which also impacts their convictions,

beliefs and behavior (Mahani, 2012).

Humanism for Self-Directed Learning in London Fire Brigade

This part of the paper includes a real-world example of how humanism was incorporated

into a learning situation to assist new firefighters in the London Fire Brigade.

Evaluation of Use of Humanism in London Fire Brigade Example

Humanism was used to improve the learning experience of new firefighters for the first

year of employment in the London Fire Brigade (Chinnasamy, 2013). They created a mentoring

program where an experienced firefighter was matched up with the new firefighter with similar

personalities to encourage communication and effective learning. The learning was primarily

self-directed in that the meetings between the mentee and the mentor were set based on their

availability, although the material covered was not specifically selected by the learners

(Chinnasamy, 2013). This application of learning incorporated five key principles of andragogy,

as stated by Chinnasamy (2013), (1) the self-direction concept of adult learning, (2) the

significance of the role of experience in adult learning, (3) the concept of readiness to learn, (4)

the orientation of adult learning approach is problem-centered, and (5) the motivation to learn

(p. 2835). The humanistic aspect of the learning approach was focused on the needs of the

learner in that the first year of employment for the firefighters was difficult. The implementation

of a mentoring program sought to solve this problem.


Quality of Application of Humanism in London Fire Brigade Example

The mentors and mentees in the London Fire Brigade were evaluated to determine the

effectiveness of the mentoring program (Chinnasamy, 2013). The results indicated that both the

mentors and mentees found the program to be very helpful to promote a learning process that

was focused on personal development, which created more commitment and effectiveness in the

employees (Chinnasamy, 2013).

Self-Actualization of Learners

This section discusses the journey of self-actualization and awareness of self-


Journey of Self-Actualization

According to Villares, Lemberger, Brigman, and Webb (2011), the journey to self-

actualization begins upon a foundation of a core set of skills that must be taught. These skills

include social, learning, and self-management and they must be taught in a supportive, caring

and encouraging environment where mistakes is an accepted part of the learning process

(Villares et al., 2011). When in the right environment, learners have improved confidence in

themselves and their abilities, which also improves social and academic outcomes (Villares et al.,


Awareness of Self-Actualization

Villares et al. (2011) state that, It is only when students see that their own actions lead to

intentional improvements in areas they choose that they can believe in their ability to improve

and seek their potential (p. 48). Students become aware of negative elements in their

environment that inhibit self-actualization and then they can work to remove them (Villares et al.

(2011). Villares et al (2011) emphasize that, students begin to see themselves as dynamic

managers of their learning environment with a desire to be successful, and the creativity and

intrinsic motivation to try new strategies, never having reservations about their ability.


In conclusion, this paper analyzed various aspects of humanism and how it is used in the

real-world. Humanism is widely used in educational and corporate settings to teach skills to

students and employees through mentoring, self-directed learning, and contemplation.

Encouraging self-directed learning throughout a persons life adds to the persons value because

they will become lifelong learners and better contributors to society and the organizations in

which they work. A persons entire perspective can be transformed when they engage in

transformational learning, which can ultimately change the world, one learner at a time.



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