How to Work with Adult Learners

As more and more adults seek to participate in learning activities such as formal and informal classes, workshops, learning in the workplace, working with a trainer or coach, and self-directed activities, it’s very important that those who teach adults understand something about the people we are teaching.

• Remember, in most cases, the adults you are teaching have chosen to be there and are highly motivated to learn.

• Adults have the ability to learn successfully, regardless of age. Remember that as people age, there are certain age-related declines in hearing, vision, and speed of response; however, when there is compensation for these losses (such as better lighting and not eliminating time limits for activities), research shows that the ability to learn does not decline with age.

• Adults bring a wealth of experience to their learning. One way to teach adults effectively is to draw from these experiences. This will help to actively involve the learners and provide concrete examples of the topic you are teaching.

• Most adult learning is self-directed, so it is very important to include the learner’s input in decisions to give them a sense of control of the learning process and content.

• The need for adult learning is often triggered by some sort of crisis or life transition. Often, adults pursue learning to deal with a health issue, job change, or personal transition such as divorce or parenthood.

  Adults usually lead busy lives, and there are many barriers or obstacles that can affect their ability to participate in learning. Time, lack of money, family responsibilities, low self-esteem, or previous negative experiences with school or learning can impact how likely a person is to participate or persist in learning.

• Most successful adult learning takes place in a collaborative setting rather than a competitive one. Classroom climate can make all the difference between a positive learning experience and a negative one.

Find out more about education majors in the Department of Education Psychology and Counseling at epc.utk.edu.

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