Teaching adult learners

01 Mar


This post is on adult learning. I have summarized an article by S. Joseph Levine from Michigan State University on The Challenge of Helping Adults learn. You can get the pdf artcle by googling.

In this article, Levine outlines the characteristics of adult learners and suggests teaching strategies to support adult learners.  

1.  What are the characteristics of adult learners?

The adult learner

  • Is primarily independent/self-directed
  • Is motivated from within himself/herself
  • Is most likely to be interested in topics that relate to his/her developmental stages of life
  • Is most interested in information and ideas that solve problems they are presently faced with
  • Is most interested in information that can be immediately applied
  • Has considerable experience to draw upon

2.  What can we do as instructors?

To teach adult learners, it is important that the teaching strategies are adapted to suit the adult learner characteristics listed above. The first step would be to understand the adult learners. Then, we need to tailor learner-centered activities.

To understand our learners, we should first be approachable and we should make efforts to get to know the adult learners – for instance, what they do, what motivates them and what interests them. 

To tailor learner-centered activities, we could

  • Encourage or where possible, organize learners in groups based on their work experience/interest, get everyone  to contribute some ideas, get  learners to elaborate how their unique experiences have helped in providing solutions to the problem
  •  Choose examples/problems which adult learners can potentially apply in their work
  • Alternatively, get adult learners in teams to suggest examples/problems and encourage them to work on that
  • Ask adult learners how they will be using what they have learnt
  • Encourage adult learners by recognizing what adult learners value; motivate them by reminding them their reasons to pursue the module/degree

In sum, the tactic to teaching adult learners would be to “relate to the adult learners, draw them into the learning process, help them to stay motivated and help them to work collaboratively”.

I had first published  this article as on an e-Post at SIM univeristy.


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4 responses to “Teaching adult learners

  1. Ramesh

    March 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Highly informative website! Hope you’ll continue to add more articles to the website.

  2. learnr

    April 4, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks for the encouraging words Ramesh.

  3. docstu

    July 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Great posting! You have got the right idea adults want to be treated like adults.


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