As educators, it is important that we have a firm understanding of who the learner in our classroom will be. Why are they there? What do they expect in their education? What experience will they bring with them? What anxieties do they have coming in? As we sum up this 5-part series on understanding the adult learners, I want us to look at a few remaining characteristics.
Ingrained Habits. Adult learners may come to your classrooms with behavior patterns that may be contrary to what you will be presenting. Adult learners may be less flexible or more difficult to persuade than other learners. They may feel threatened when told that former behaviors must change.
The master educator will take advantage of the learners’ past experiences and behaviors and whenever possible, use them to improve procedures or techniques.
Established Opinions. Adult learners often arrive with established opinions about what is being taught. Those opinions may not always be productive or appropriate but should be recognized as important.
Adults need to be told their ideas and opinions have value and weight; that they are significant if they are to be actively involved in the learning process.
Relationship with Prior Knowledge. Adult learners have a relationship with prior knowledge. We live in a world today where people have access to information at their fingertips and it is quite likely that your students have spent time “learning” various techniques through YouTube or from friends. They are going to make connections with what information you are teaching them with the knowledge they already have.
I recognize that not all of what they have learned is going to be accurate and that sometimes it feels as if we spend more time getting them to forget about what they think they know. But it is also important that we do not completely discredit everything they know. Look for ways to relate what you are teaching them to things that might already be familiar to them. This gives the adult learners familiar ground on which to stand while you are also asking them to stretch or expand into unfamiliar territory. This makes the training process less threatening, more accessible and more comfortable. In addition, the practicality and usefulness of the new information becomes more relevant.
Involvement Is Needed. Adult learners are not willing to simply sit in a classroom and receive information passively. They need to participate in the learning process and know that their participation is having a positive effect on the learning process.
We must limit lecture to only essential information and then involve the learners by having them use it. Encourage questions, ask for learners’ opinions, challenge learners to think and incite reaction on the part of the learners to what is taking place in the classroom. If they have an active role in the learning process, learners will have a personal stake in making that process successful.