Shirley J. Caruso, Ed.D.
Adult learners attend school for a variety of reasons. Some would like to achieve professional growth while others are looking to acquire new knowledge and skills. Their motivation to seek learning opportunities may be influenced by their desire to increase their circle of friends and socialization, to
Adult learners attend school for a variety of reasons. Some would like to achieve professional growth while others are looking to acquire new knowledge and skills. Their motivation to seek learning opportunities may be influenced by their desire to increase their circle of friends and socialization, to fulfill the expectations or recommendations of a professional position, to be of service to their community, or to achieve job security.
Instructing adult learners requires knowledge on the subject matter as well as an understanding of how adults learn best. Lessons for adult learners are usually structured to provide support from peers and to reduce fear or judgment during learning.
Providing the proper motivation and reinforcement and assisting the learners in retaining and using the information and applying their knowledge in a different setting is a task that instructors must achieve to help the adult learners benefit from their education.
Adults Learn Differently Than Children
The way adults learn differs from the way children learn in that adult learning is self- directed, problem-centered, experienced based and applicable to life. Malcolm Knowles, the founding father of adult learning distinguished the concept of pedagogy, the “art and science of helping children learn” from andragogy, “the art and science of helping adults learn”. Knowles based andragogy five assumptions about the characteristics of adult learners: adults need to direct themselves, adults need to learn experientially, adults approach learning as problem-solving, adults learn best when the topic is of immediate significance, and Knowles later added that adults acquire their motivation to learn from internal factors. In realistic terms, andragogy means that instruction for adults needs to focus more on the process and less on the content being taught.
Educators Act as Facilitators
In adult education, educators are not the source of knowledge or information. They are the facilitators of learning as they guide the adult learners in acquiring knowledge. Adult learners have a wealth of knowledge gained from their experiences with work and life. They desire to apply what they know and wish to be acknowledged for having that knowledge. Experience for the adults is the principal source of self-identity and failure to maximize or explore their skills and experience may cause them to feel rejected. To make each lesson meaningful and permanent, the instructor must help adult learners relate the information or subject matter to their life experiences.
Adults Must See a Need for Training
Adults have a strong tendency to learn what will be of instant use to their personal and professional lives. They must see a need for training (what’s in it for me?) before learning will take place. Incentives such as increased job satisfaction, self-esteem and enhanced quality of life are the internal factors that drive adults to seek learning opportunities. The adult learners will respond more positively if these incentives can be related to the class projects and activities that are fulfilling and relevant to their personal and professional needs.
Adult learners seek learning opportunities with defined goals and expectations. Adults are usually motivated to learn due to their interest and the benefits that they will obtain after the completion of the course. To make learning interesting, relevant, meaningful and lasting, it is important for instructors or facilitators to help the adult learners explore and apply their skills, knowledge, and experience in their chosen learning venture.