top of page

The Learning Journey: Marking Milestones

By Coquina Restrepo

The process of learning is a journey of a thousand miles and our mission as tutors is to guide

learners along the way. It is a long, arduous path that can feel like an uphill battle; but it is also one

of the most significant journeys a person can ever take.

Just like any trail, our learning journey may seem unguided and without any clear directions. That’s

why tutors help learners follow the path with milestone markers or what we’re gonna call “learning

milestones”. A learning milestone is a point where we learn that how we’ve been thinking about a

problem or an issue is holding us back from going forward. It’s both an obstacle and an opportunity

to practice what we’ve been learning along the trail.

Many learning milestones look like issues that make us frustrated and want to turn back. They can

be issues with expressing our thoughts clearly, not understanding the next step to getting into a

higher education program or finding that the next reading level is far above what we can

comprehend. They are humbling moments that need patience and recognition before transforming

into authentic learning opportunities. Tutors help guide learners through these obstacles and turn

them into milestones, helping learners progress through their learning journey by finding ways to

resolve these issues together.

We want to help our tutors understand why learning milestones can be difficult to navigate and how

we can support our learners to accept these uncomfortable moments as a sign that they are going

down the correct path. In here we will give a short survey of how to notice milestones, why they are

important and how to work through them instead of avoiding them.

How we think is how we learn.

Just like how everyone completes a trail at different times, everyone learns at a slightly different

pace. Learning involves taking in new information, practicing using it, focusing on training your

brain to recall that information at select times and being able to use it in real life. It takes time,

dedication and a lot of hard work to train someone to learn, especially when they’re adults because

adults learn differently from children.

Adult learning is complex because we’re not “teaching” them new information, we’re adapting their

current information to change to a new perspective. When adults go to college or start on a

foundational learning course, we are building on previous knowledge and adapting it to new


What makes an adult learner’s learning journey different?

There are a few mindset factors that make adult learners different from child learners. This effects

how they stay motivated through obstacles and what goals drive them to do better after each


In general, an adult learner is:

+Self motivated - Adults who embark on their learning journey WANT to be there.

+Goal oriented - There will be a clear goal of why adult learners are starting their journey and they

want a clear outcome.

+Structure oriented - Because adult learners have different time constraints and commitments,

they will need structured practice with expected study topics and deadlines.

+Focused on a single set of material - Adult learners have clear goals and their practice sessions

and materials need to reflect what they need to do in order to accomplish them.

When we start a learning journey as an adult we have a clear goal in mind that we follow, and we

try to follow it without getting distracted. This can create dedicated learners who strive to improve

their lives through learning, yet it can also create fixed mindsets that can cause learners to struggle

with confusing materials and feel discouraged if they can’t “learn fast enough”.

We often then perceive our goals and learning journey as something simple with a very easy to

follow path. This narrow focus of learning can help us determine how we will structure our lessons

and practice, but it can also create more problems if the issues around the learning structure aren’t


Example 1: If your learner is trying to practice their business English skills in order to earn better

job prospects, they may want to only focus on accent reduction and conversational skills. But they

could have underlying issues with listening skills or grasping cultural metaphors that they can’t

recognize in regular conversations.

Example 2: There could be a learner who’s trying to develop better reading skills so they can read

young adult literature with their children. But throughout your lessons you could find that their

attentional focus could flux from page to page at certain reading levels, which effects their

comprehension skills and memory.

In each example, our learner has a clear goal and motivation to learn but they are struggling to

overcome an obstacle that keeps them from progressing. This is an incredibly frustrating process

that every learner meets along their journey, and every tutor needs to be prepared to face. Tutors

also need to take the time then to ask themselves during these lessons: Is the material I’m using

an issue or is my learner struggling with something else?

What works in the classroom for adult learners?

General childhood education has a very easy formula to remember:

Lecture ->Worksheets ->Reading ->Worksheets ->Group Work -> Homework -> Test.

The idea for children is to expose them to the same information multiple times and in different

formats. That way they can commit to memory the necessary facts and skills in the shortest

amount of time possible. Children are taught to memorize new information as the basis of

learning. This might work for hands on working that happens in a classroom, but does it work well

for tutoring adults?\

For adults, we have to rethink how they learn through two processes: memory and information

integration. Learning and memory has an even simpler formula to use to help our brains remember


Encode information (sensory) ->Store new information (Short term memory) ->Retrieve over and

over again(Long term memory)

How we use our memory to learn is broken down into what we keep for a short term period and

what we integrate into our long term memory. Short term memory is good for quick, rehearsed

tasks but longterm memory is what we want to use to rewrite our language and communication

skills. We are constantly learning and relearning new information in our adulthood, but it is more<