Characteristics of adult learners

by | 03.26.2014

Children and adults learn for different reasons. Adults are not motivated by a good mark. On the other hand they want results that can be seen at their work, something that can help them, improve. Adults want practice not theory. Their learning is integrative. They learn better when they integrate new information with the one that they already know.
Adults need to understand why learning is important. They need to be convinced that they profit from this change. Adult learners need control over the learning and the different experiences in it. They don’t like mistakes, especially on their homework, that is why they ask for clarification instructions time by time.
According to Malcolm Knowles teachers can help the adult learners once they understand their characteristics. He identified these following characteristics in adult learners:
                     Independence.Adults need to be free to direct themselves. Teachers must involve these students in the learning process and serve as facilitators for them. Teachers need to notice their interests and enable them to work on these topics.
             Knowledge and experience. The adult learners have knowledge and experience that have gained in their work, in their former education, or even because of their family responsibilities. They have to link their learning to these experiences and knowledge. To do this, the teacher has to make use of the experiences and knowledge that are relevant to the topic. Teachers need to appreciate the importance of experience in the learning process.
       Orientation towards a goal. When adult learners enroll in a class, they usually know the goal that has to be achieved. So they appreciate a curriculum that is organized and has clearly defined elements. Teachers need to show them that this course will help them to achieve their goals. Goals should be made clear at the beginning of each class.
      Value. Adult learners are oriented towards the value of something. They need to find the reason why to learn something. Learning should be adjusted to their work or to other responsibilities. So teachers should find objectives for their students before the class starts.
            Practicality. Adult learners are practical. They need to focus on the parts of the lesson that are more useful for their job. They may not be interested just in general knowledge. It is the teacher’s responsibility to explain to his students how the lesson will be useful to their job.
       Respect. The adult learners should be treated with respect. Teachers should be grateful for the experiences that the adult learners bring into class. They should be treated as equals in experience and knowledge and they should be allowed to express their opinions in class.
           Motivation. Adult learners are motivated to learn.

3 responses to “Characteristics of adult learners”

  1. JoshM says:

    Interesting. So do we need to show more respect to adult learners than younger ones? Or just communicate that in a different way?

    • Aleksandra says:

      I think respect need to be shown to both groups. We should respect our young learners and encourage them to participate in the learning process. The difference is that the young ones see the instructor as the only source of knowledge in class.
      On the other hand, it is important for the adult learners to see that their experience, their knowledge is appreciated and sometimes is crucial in a class. If respect is made obvious they would be eager to take part in the learning process, share and what’s more use English to do that.

  2. Great point. Our adult learners come to our class with a wealth of experience and knowledge in their fields of expertise.

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