Engaging the Adult Learner Assignment


Engaging the Adult Learner Assignment

Research has shown that most undergraduates usually study less, work more and take a long period of time to complete their degrees. This research conducted by Steel in the year 2010 revealed that only a quarter of the university students nowadays follow the “traditional” way of learning that involved full-time and residential learning. This poses a great challenge to the universities and other institutions of higher learning to rethink the undergraduate programs so that they can come up with a better program that offers distance education, part-time learning and even the crash programs that will enable a student to complete the course within the shortest duration possible.

The group of “non-traditional” students comprises of members who are older than the “traditional” students. They prefer taking night classes because they spend their day working in companies and organizations. Most of them usually seek the knowledge to enhance their careers and jobs that they do.

The teaching of these adult students is usually different from the teaching of the traditional and young learners. There are various factors that need to be put into consideration when teaching these non-traditional students. Among them is that the tutor should understand that adult learning is selective. This means that the adults will learn what is meaningful to them and what interests them. Their learning is inclined to what they think is beneficial and important to them (Rubenson, 2011, p. 49)

Furthermore, the adult learning is usually self-directed. This means that the adults do take responsibility for their own learning. According to Malcolm Knowles, self-directed learning is a process through which people identify their learning needs and set goals that are directed or guided by the method of learning the learner chooses, how the learning materials will be gathered and lastly the evaluation of the learning progress.

It is inevitable that most adult learners have been away from formal schooling for quite a long period of time and may have had negative experiences with the school. They may therefore enter the school with low self-esteem and anxiety. (Rubenson, 2011, p.53).

Furthermore, Jarvis, 2004 asserts that the adult learning usually brings the previous years’ experience and knowledge to the classroom. In addition, they may bring established systems of values and beliefs governing their thoughts and therefore adult learners expect to be treated as adults.

Adults have been observed to prefer the problem-centered approach of learning because they are only interested in contents that matter and are directly applicable to their lives. They are eager to know how the course content is relevant to their current situations and problems (Rochester Institute of Technology).

The above characteristics of adult learning simply mean that a different teaching approach should be used to teach the adult learners; an approach that is different from the one being used to teach the ‘traditional’ students.

Different scholars have developed various practices that can be used to teach the adult learners. Let us look at Keillor and Littlefield’s best adult learning practices. The two scholars; Keillor and Littlefield developed a list of best practices that promotes the adult’s readiness to learn. These practices included the creation of a safe and welcoming learning environment. Furthermore, the two scholars advocated for the creation of a culture of respect, empathy, authenticity and approachability. They went ahead to pinpoint the need to collaborate on the development of learning objectives and institutional learning objectives. They suggested that it is important to ensure practicality of all the learning activities.

When it comes to teaching adult students, it is important to create a link between the world the adult knows and the academy that he or she is about to enter. (Lee Bash). The new students should be oriented and introduced to the specific institution and then helped to make adjustments to college-level work while preparing them for the potential problems they are likely to encounter as adult learners. They should be prepared for the responsibilities they are to undertake in the learning institution, and be made to understand that the faculty members seek good students. (Bash, 2003, p161)

There are various teaching methods that support adult learning. Rubenson and Jarvis developed some of these teaching methods. First and foremost, teachers should empower the adult learners through the sharing of power and decision making roles with the students. The teachers can do this by not providing the correct answers to the students directly, making sure there is equal access to resources, ensuring there is involvement of students in managing the learning environment and so on and so forth.

In addition to that, teachers need to provide autonomy and independence to the adult students. This independence means the freedom to work at their own speed, choose to study particular aspects of the course and not others, freedom to choose what they learn and also to adopt whatever learning style suits them.

Another important teaching method that can be devised by teachers includes the teacher facilitation of the learning process. A teacher plays a significant role in facilitating the learning of the adult students. The teacher may do this through confronting the learner with a problem that requires a solution.(Jarvis, 2994, p.153)

Apart from the above methods, Jarvis went ahead to provide a list of specific teaching methods that can be used to support the adult learning. He divided his list into two categories; student centered and teacher centered.

By student centered method, Jarvis meant the discussion groups, debates, fishbowls, simulations etc. All these are focused on the aspects that are beneficial to the adult learner. On the other hand, the teacher centered method is the method which incorporates the guided discussions, mentoring, demonstrations and tutorials given to the students (Jarvis, 2004, p. 165). Some of these methods are highlighted below.

There is Socratic teaching which is a method that introduces questioning into the learning and teaching process. This involves the teacher directing a sequence of logical questions to the student so that the student learns to express the knowledge that he or she has acquired in the classroom effectively and efficiently. Socratic learning is a very efficient method of teaching adults because it enables the learners to create knowledge rather than reproduce the knowledge they have acquired. Furthermore, it involves the active participation of the student in the learning process.

Didactic teaching is another method of teaching adult learners. This method involves encouraging students to analyze the course content and not just learning it by rote. This can be done by encouraging students to ask questions hence initiating the learning process themselves. According to Jarvis, if a student asks the teacher a question that he does not know the answer, it is important that the teacher throws the question to the rest of the class members and direct them to find the answer themselves. By admitting that he does not know the answer, and trusting the students to be able to figure out the solution to the question only demonstrates that the teacher has respect for the student’s knowledge and facilitates their independence in the learning process.

Understanding the learning process of the adults is very important as it enables the management of the learning institutions to design the best programs that befits the learners so that the learning process can be effectively and efficiently implemented.


Bash, L. (2003). Adult Learners in the Academy. Bolton, Ma.: Anker Publishing Company.
Jarvis. P. (2004). Adult Education and Lifelong Learning: Theory and Practice, 3rd ed. London: Falmer Press. Retrieved from: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/oculryerson/docDetail.action?docID=10093530&p00
Keillor, C. & Littlefield, J. (2012). Engaging Adult Learners with Technology. Library Technology Conference: Macalester College. Retrieved from: http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/libtech_conf/2012/sessions/43/
Characteristics of Adult Learners. RIT Online Learning: Rochester Institute of Technology. Retrieved from: http://online.rit.edu/faculty/teaching_strategies/adult_learners.cfm
Rubenson, K. (2011). Adult Learning and Education. Saint Louis, Mo.: Academic Press. Retrieved from: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/oculryerson/docDetail.action?docID=10440525&p00

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