WORKING WITH ADULT LEARNERS
Confidence: Adults often come into a learning situation with fear and apprehension, following a long history of failure. It takes a great deal of courage to admit their needs and ask for assistance. Once in a program, some may exhibit negative attitudes because of their past failures.
Competence: Each adult learner has unique talents and has succeeded in some area of life: church, neighborhood, family, job, hobbies, sports, as part of a network of friends. They are mature people who deserve to being treated as such.
Energy: Adults are sometimes tired when they attend classes as a result of their other responsibilities. They may be working full-time, looking after a family and attending classes.
Goal-Oriented: Adult learners usually have definite goals when starting an educational program. These goals may include self-improvement, getting a driver's licence, reading to their children, improving job skills, getting a job or a promotion, getting a high school diploma or equivalent.
Learning Styles: Different people have different preferred styles of learning. Some will learn more easily if they can see or feel what is to be learned, while others may have to hear it to know it. Most adult learners know how they prefer to learn if the right questions are asked.
Life experience: Adults have a wealth of personal, family, work and life experiences which provide unlimited possibilities for the creation and understanding of lessons.
Motivation: Adult students are usually highly motivated when they begin. The motivation can quickly lessen if they become discouraged, if progress is slow, or as time passes and other responsibilities affect the amount of time and energy they can give to their learning.
Motives: Adults often attend classes with a mixed set of motives: education, social, recreational, and sometimes out of a sense of duty or because they are required to (ie. by their employer, to receive certain benefits, or by law).
Needs Change: Needs of the adult learner will change over time. The goals identified by the learner at the beginning may become more realistic, evolve as learning takes place, or change with one's life circumstances. For example, wanting to read with one's children may become secondary to learning to read messages from the school and write messages to the teacher if a child is sick or having problems at school.
Reaction time: Increased age or poor health can affect the reaction time, vision and hearing of adult learners. However, they do not lose their capacity to learn.
Responsible: Adult learners, like all adults, have many responsibilities. They are busy earning a living, taking care of a home and family, often just trying to survive. As a result, many students have little time to review and absorb large amounts of material at one time, or to waste on things which they don't perceive to contribute directly to their learning.
Results: Adult students need to see immediate change and growth. They may be intolerant of anything that does not help them achieve their goal. Often, as adults, student's goals are overly ambitious.
Self-conscious: Many adults develop strategies to conceal their lack of education. These strategies may show up as excuses for non-performance.
Self-Motivated: Many adult learners are strongly motivated towards studying as they see education as a way to improve their self-image, and reach other personal goals.
Uneven Learner: Adult learners will not necessarily learn at an even pace. It may simply be because some things are more challenging for the learner than others. Or there may be external factors affecting their ability to concentrate.
How Adults Learn
(The following quotes are taken from Ennis and Woodrow 1992: p.12)
(The following quotes are taken from Cypress Hills Regional College, 1994: p. 2-3)
Conditions of Adult Education
Malcolm Knowles, a leader in the field of adult education, developed this framework describing how adults learn differently than children. The Conditions of Adult Education (in bold print) are followed by corresponding Principles of Teaching.
The learners feel the need to learn.
The learning environment is characterized by physical comfort, mutual respect and trust, mutual helpfulness, freedom of expression, and acceptance of differences.
The learners perceive the goals of the learning experience to be their goals.
The learners accept a share of the responsibility for planning and operating the learning experience.
The learners participate actively in the learning process.
The learning process is related to and makes use of the experience of the learners.
The learners have a sense of progress toward their goals.
Principles of Adult Education
Achievement: Realistic standards of student achievement should be jointly developed by teacher and student.
Adult: The vocabulary, themes, and language of all adult learner materials must be clearly written for this audience.
Apply: Give your students opportunities to apply newly-acquired skills as quickly as possible in real-life situations.
Experience: Capitalize on the adult's past experiences wherever possible in the learning situation.
Goals: Organize each lesson around specific learning goals. Tell students what objective they will achieve with each lesson.
Independence: Materials should allow adults to make discoveries on their own with limited teacher supervision. Adults need independence and are capable of assuming responsibility for their own learning.
Integrate: Combine several skills and teach them concurrently. Reading materials should supply information and develop ideas while developing new reading skills.
Meaningful: All learning materials should be vital and meaningful to an adult learner. The vocabulary must be adult-oriented.
Progress: Provide adult learners with progress reports at frequent intervals. These can serve as an important stimulant to adult learning.
Steps: Develop skills for the adult learner in small, sequential steps so that students are not overwhelmed with too much information at one time.
Stimulate: Make learning stimulating but not too demanding. These adults are already threatened by school, so don't give them materials beyond their ability.
Success: Make sure adult students consistently experience success in learning. Don't allow them to fail.
Time: Because students and teachers feel the pressure of limited learning time, make the most efficient use of each lesson.
STUDENT BILL OF RIGHTS
* I have the right to learn at my own pace and not feel stupid.
* I have the right to ask whatever questions I have.
* I have the right to need extra help.
* I have the right to ask a teacher for help.
* I have the right not to understand.
* I have the right to say "I don't understand".
* I have the right to feel good about myself.
* I have the right to be treated as a competent adult.
(From The Manitoba Literacy Star 1994, Fall, Vol. 4, No. 4: p. 1.)
Chapter Five References
Baker, Diane. The Literacy Tutor. Wetaskiwin PALS (Program for Adult Literacy Skills). Wetaskiwin, AB.
Colvin, Ruth J. and Jane H. Root. TUTOR: Techniques Used in the Teaching of Reading. Sixth edition. Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. Syracuse, NY. 1987.
Cypress Hills Regional College. Tutor Ways. Swift Current, SK. 1994.
Ennis, Frances and Helen Woodrow. Learning Together: The Challenge of Adult Literacy: A Resource Book for Trainers. Educational Planning and Design Associates, Ltd. St. John's, NF. 1992.
Gillespie, Marilyn. Many Literacies: Modules for Training Adult Beginning Readers and Tutors. Center for International Education, University of Massachusetts. Amherst, MA. 1990.
Knowles, M. The Modern Practice of Adult Education; From Pedagogy to Andragogy. Cambridge, The Adult Education Company. NY. 1980.
Manitoba Literacy Star, Vol. 4, No. 4, Fall 1994.
Steck-Vaughn. Reading for Today - Reading for Tomorrow. Tutor Training Manual. 1989.
Winnipeg Core Area Initiative. PAL (Project for Adult Literacy) Tutor Guide.