Adult Learning: 9 Common Fears That Hold You Back

Life Long Learning, Note 07

When I was in high school, now I know I had some fears about learning. Now in my "late middle age years" it is hard for me to imagine that I ever had these fears about learning. So I am caught off guard when I talk with adult learners and discover they have some of these fears.

It turns out that if you do have some fears, you are not alone. In fact, you are in the majority. Here are the Top 9 Fears About Learning as Ronald Gross maps them out in Peak Learning.

learning and humility quoteONE: The fear of not knowing how to learn.  
This then breeds the idea that learning is boring, difficult, passive, only and unrelated to your real interests (see page 39).

TWO: The fear of the responsibility that comes with learning.
As responsibility comes with power, so it comes with learning. For all learning is a form of power. All knowledge now means you are responsible to do something with what you have learned.

THREE: The fear of change that comes with learning.
Your old world is challenged and expanded. The old and comfortable way of doing things is now seen as inadequate. You have to see the world and yourself with new eyes.  That is disconcerting.

FOUR: The fear you won't understand what you are learning.
What is at the core of this fear is looking bad (or feeling stupid or inadequate) if something is too hard to understand.

FIVE: The fear that you are not a learner.
This is an identity fear. You simply do not view yourself as thoughtful, intelligent, capable of figuring things out, able to interpret and make sense out of new information. We usually assume that others who are learning - are learners and that it will be easier for them since they are learners.

never stop learningSIX:  The fear that you won't remember what you are learning.
This one is associated with testing that goes with learning... or with higher levels of expectation from others about what you are learning (especially if your learning is job related). For some adult learners, if they have concerns about their memory, this fear is really strong.

SEVEN:  The fear of looking bad for not knowing something.
Okay... at the beginning of this post, I said I no longer have these fears. Well, there are times when I don't know something and I act as if I do, because I think I should already know this. For some learners, they are embarrassed at being in a course or a seminar when it is topic or theme they believe they should already know about. This is why we are paralyzed if we think we will be called on to demonstrate our knowledge in public.

EIGHT:  The fear that there is too much to learn and not enough time.
As information has exploded, this fear has intensified. As our busy lives have grown busier, finding the time for focused learning is difficult. With so much to learn and so little time, some adult learners just give up rather than try.

fear and learningNINE:  The fear that you are too old to learn.
I have heard this one so many times. If there is a technology component added to the learning experience, and you do not feel at home in internet based (or shaped) learning, this fear intensifies. I was talking with an adult about a week ago and recommending they spend some time learning more about the field we were discussing. Their response was, "I'm too old. If I had started when I was younger - maybe. But now, I am over the hill and don't have the energy to learn."

As you look back over this list - which fears are currently stronger than others? Which fears are holding you back from real and sustained learning? Will you continue to listen to your fears, or to believe that you are a learner, you can learn, and that you can learn to be an even better learner?

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International