Working with Adult Learners
Community colleges throughout the state have a large population of “adult learners.” These are students who are not enrolling immediately after graduating high school.
Helping Adult Learners with Limited Basic Skills
In the interest of helping adult students reach their educational and professional goals, it is best to address any limitations immediately. More often than not, such limitations are not due to an inability to do the work; rather, they can occur from a variety of correctable situations such as: the student has been away from studying for some time, the subject was poorly introduced and disliked in elementary and/or secondary school, or the student is in an environment that does not value good grammar or mathematical skills.
In some cases an adult learner simply has not been introduced to effective study habits and now has to balance study with work and family. A bit of guidance will put students on the right track.
The basic education skills of adult learners can often be improved by peer tutoring or in- class study groups. Oftentimes peer tutors are able to reach the student on a different level than the professional. Students proficient in writing or math make a more credible source for them, because they are going to school also.
Adult Learning Pattern One
Adult learners tend to expect learning to be delivered in a traditional, teacher-led way, and to expect the faculty member to do the “work” of the learning. The adult learner is there to absorb the learning.
Now, this does NOT say that this is an effective way to teach adults. This is saying that most of us, for years, have been taught via a certain method, namely, faculty-led instruction. We have not been expected to be part of the hands-on learning process. This is a pattern that is in the process of being broken down; however, we are talking about breaking down a pattern that has been in existence for decades, even centuries. This mindset is not going away easily, and to expect adult learners to automatically embrace a brand new way of learning immediately, or without proper orientation, is expecting too much.
Adult Learning Pattern Two
Adult learners who tend to undertake a project on their own (as opposed to being assigned the project) do so with the purpose of solving a problem, or applying the information right away, as opposed to learning a new subject for the sake of learning it.
This may be a factor of our “hurry up” culture; our plates are full with home, work, and family responsibilities. Any free time we have in our lives should be used as economically as possible... and we can see how this carries over into adult education.
Adult Learning Pattern Three
Motivation for adult learners in education tends to come from a need to fill a professional gap or a direction from superiors.
So, this pattern should come as no surprise, based on the fact that pattern two illustrates the “practicality” mindset that adult learners have toward continuing education. This may be dependent on where adult learners are in different professional stages of their lives, though. The higher up the individual may be on the professional ladder, for instance, the more likely the individual may wish to learn new subject matter for the sake of learning it.
Adult Learning Pattern Four
Adult learners tend to rely on colleagues or friends who may also be experts in their professional field for advice when seeking advice on learning or embarking on a new educational venture.
This has both positive and negative consequences: obviously, if we have colleagues who share our learning interests and who have had positive experiences, we want to know more about those experiences and apply that potential to our own lives. We trust and know these individuals to help us make a significant decision that will impact our free time, finances, and professional development.
On the other hand, reliance on opinions of others (and not doing the work of discovering our own personal likes, dislikes, and preferences) instead of our own may result in disappointment when the learning experience is not all what we expect it to be. A word to the wise here would be to seek out opinions of others, but balance them with the knowledge of our own preferences.
Adult Learning Pattern Five
Adult learners tend to appreciate – and continue learning – in courses where they feel they have a significant contribution to make to the discussion, and that their contributions are acknowledged and appreciated by the group as a whole.
Trends in Adult Learning
A variety of sources provide us with a body of fairly reliable knowledge about adult learning. This knowledge might be divided into three basic divisions: things we know about adult learners and their motivation, things we know about designing curriculum for adults, and things we know about working with adults in the classroom.