Characteristics of Adult Learners

I think in order to better help our students learn it is important to understand  some characteristics of Adult Learners.  This resource provides a good summary of some of the traits we can see in Adult Learners:

• Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They need to be free to direct themselves. Their teachers
must actively involve adult participants in the learning process and serve as facilitators for them.
Specifically, they must get participants’ perspectives about what topics to cover and let them work
on projects that reflect their interests. They should allow the participants to assume responsibility
for presentations and group leadership. They have to be sure to act as facilitators, guiding
participants to their own knowledge rather than supplying them with facts. Finally, they must show
participants how the class will help them reach their goals (e.g., via a personal goals sheet).
• Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work related
activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. They need to connect learning to
this knowledge/experience base. To help them do so, they should draw out participants’ experience
and knowledge which is relevant to the topic. They must relate theories and concepts to the
participants and recognize the value of experience in learning.
• Adults are goal-oriented. Upon enrolling in a course, they usually know what goal they want to
attain. They, therefore, appreciate an educational program that is organized and has clearly defined
elements. Instructors must show participants how this class will help them attain their goals. This
classification of goals and course objectives must be done early in the course.
• Adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning something. Learning has to be
applicable to their work or other responsibilities to be of value to them. Therefore, instructors must
identify objectives for adult participants before the course begins. This means, also, that theories
and concepts must be related to a setting familiar to participants. This need can be fulfilled by
letting participants choose projects that reflect their own interests.
• Adults are practical, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work. They
may not be interested in knowledge for its own sake. Instructors must tell participants explicitly
how the lesson will be useful to them on the job.
• As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect. Instructors must acknowledge the wealth of
experiences that adult participants bring to the classroom. These adults should be treated as equals
in experience and knowledge and allowed to voice their opinions freely in class.

By keeping these characteristics in mind when teaching adult learners I think we can better help tailor instructional strategies instead of taking  generic approach.


Positive Learning Environments and the Adult Learner

The following are articles regarding Learning Environments: