Teaching the adult learner

Dr Karla

Sunday, September 30, 2018

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Learning is a complex process of acquiring knowledge which begins at birth and hopefully continues until death. But the human ability to learn and recall information differs for all individuals, particularly so when comparing adult learners to their young counterparts.

While the basic principles of learning remain the same for both groups, educating an adult learner is different than educating an adolescent learner primarily because adults are considered to be more mature, confident, experienced, task-centred, self-aware, and self-directed than younger learners. Different strategies or approaches are therefore required to optimise achievement.

When dealing with the adult learner, the following characteristics must be considered:

1) Life Experience

Adult learners bring previous knowledge and more life experience to the classroom than younger people. It may therefore become easier for the teacher to pull on real-life examples to illustrate a lesson for the adult learner. Children are likely to have little or no foreknowledge. For example, balancing a cheque book would be more familiar to an adult than to a child. This means that connections between subject matter and experience can easily be tied together for the adult learner.

2) Embarrassment

Children are generally expected not to know some things, whereas adults are assumed to know many more things. This may result in reluctance on the part of the adult to seek clarity and to ask questions in a class. They may become embarrassed if a question is posed to them and they do not know the answer. It is important for the teacher to be aware that this can happen and phrase questions and responses in a manner that assures the learner that it is okay not to know.

3) Respect

Educators should show respect to all students, irrespective of age. However, this becomes even more crucial when dealing with the adult learner. The teacher cannot appear to be talking down to students and definitely should not ridicule a learner for not knowing something. We must always be mindful of their individuality, unique life experiences, and emotions.

4) Autonomy

Adult learners are more independent than young learners and are more self-directed. They are usually capable of working things out for themselves. Therefore, both the adult learner and the teacher should be involved in designing the learning experience.

5) Motivation

Usually, adults would have chosen to do a particular course, as opposed to having it thrust upon them as in the case of young learners. They would therefore have identified the benefits of learning and on that basis would be self-motivated. Young learners, on the other hand, for whom school is generally compulsory, may lack enthusiasm if they are disinterested in a subject. They are primarily motivated by extrinsic factors such as competition for grades and pleasing parents.

Despite the differences between the adult and young learner, the teacher must assess his or her class and employ a variety of teaching strategies that will meet the needs of the varied individuals. Teaching is never static and the educator should spend time motivating and encouraging students irrespective of age. The teacher should at all times be approachable and respectful.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, biochemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com .

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