Teaching Adult Learners
Adults want learning experiences that are practical and relevant to their lives. They tend to be less interested in learning for the sake of learning.
New information or ideas must be integrated into existing knowledge if it is to be retained and usable.
Information and ideas that conflict with existing schema and beliefs are integrated more slowly.
Fast-paced or unusual learning tasks interfere with integrating the concepts they are intended to teach.
Adults tend to take errors personally and, as a consequence, may guard their self-esteem by taking fewer risks.
They prefer using proven methods over new ones.
The trainer must know how the concepts or ideas being presented will be received by the learner.
Some instruction must be designed to effect a change in belief and value systems.
Different life stages and different value systems should be taken into consideration in program design.
Adults prefer self-directed and self-designed learning projects over group learning experiences led by a professional. Given a choice, they will select more than one medium for learning and will want to control the pace and start/stop time.
Adults prefer straight content presentation.
Even adults who describe themselves as self-directed learners give positive ratings to lectures and short seminars, especially when these events give the learner face-to-face, one-to-one access to an expert.
The learning environment must be physically and psychologically comfortable.
High irritants include long lectures, long periods of sitting, and the absence of opportunities to practice skills.
Adults have expectations, and it is critical that instructors clarify and articulate all expectations early on, before getting into content.
Adults bring a great deal of life experience to the learning environment, an invaluable asset to be acknowledged, tapped, and used. Adults can learn from talking with their peers.
Instructors should draw out relevant student knowledge and experience.
To integrate new knowledge, students must actively participate in the learning experience.
The key to the instructor role is control. The instructor must balance the presentation of new material, debate and discussion, and sharing of relevant student experiences, while also keeping track of the time.
The instructor has to protect minority opinion, keep disagreements civil and unheated, make connections between various opinions and ideas, and keep reminding the group of the variety of potential solutions to the problem. The instructor is less an advocate than an orchestrator.
Integration of new knowledge and skill requires transition time and focused effort on application.
Learning and teaching theories are valuable resources but need not be adhered to strictly. An eclectic approach often works best for aligning theory with the application of skills.
(Source: Zemke, Ron and Zemke, Susan. "30 Things We Know For Sure About Adult Learning." Innovation Abstracts Vol. VI, No. 8, March 9, 1984.)