Teaching adults is quite different from teaching children. Adults have busy lives with many responsibilities and demands on their time, and they have chosen to allocate some of their limited, precious time to take the course you are teaching. Whether you are teaching an in-service at work, a continuing education class at the local college or English as a Second Language (ESL) at the community center, adult learners can be rewarding to work with.

Before Planning a Specific Lesson

Adult learners want to collaborate with the instructor in their own learning.
Adult learners want to collaborate with the instructor in their own learning.

Learn the principles of adult education. Adult learners have significant life experience and want to integrate new knowledge with previous learning. They respond to collaborative modes of teaching, and you can effectively share lesson planning with them. Some may have anxiety related to negative experiences in formal schooling. However, this is balanced by their motivation: they will be goal-oriented, looking for the relevancy and practical applicability of the course material. Adult learners are capable of self-direction and self-assessment. Their thinking is more nuanced, so finalized absolute answers are not necessary.

Get to know the students in your class. Find out what their previous experiences in the field are, why they are taking this course and what they hope to gain from it. Ask about similar courses they have taken and what they liked and disliked about those courses. All of this will help you tailor your lesson plans to their learning goals.

Know your subject matter. Elementary school teachers sometimes have to teach content they are not strong in, but they can usually manage with some quick research. However, adult learners will sense if your knowledge is shaky or shallow. Do in-depth research on any course elements that are new to you before the course begins and be prepared to admit that a particular facet of the field is not your strength. Do not plan on faking it.

Creating a Lesson Plan

Describe the content you intend to cover. Outline both the main topic and the sub-headings you will address in the lesson. As you do this, recall your students' stated learning goals and note how this lesson's content will meet those goals.

Identify the desired outcome of the lesson. How will the overall purpose of the course be furthered if the students learn today's content? How will the desired outcome address your students' stated reasons for taking the course?

List at least 3 clear and specific objectives for the lesson. Objectives are the behaviorally observable ways you know your students have learned the main topic of the class. What will you see and hear that will tell you the students have incorporated the new learning and skills you intend to teach?

Plan an attention grabber activity or discussion to introduce the main topic of the lesson. In adult education, the grabber needs to persuade the students that today's lesson is relevant to their learning goals for the course and will give them skills they can immediately begin using.

Develop the step by step procedures for presenting the main content of the lesson. Note the materials you will need to have on hand. Recall special needs of any of your students and plan to accommodate them.

Decide what form of independent practice your students will use to shift the content from theory to applicability. Student activity should take the bulk of the time in an adult education class, so plan several different kinds of practice exercises. Make ample use of the action-reflection model, in which students practice a skill, receive immediate feedback from you and their peers and then have another chance to practice.

Bring the class back together for closure. This is the time to make connections with how today's lesson relates to the course overall. You may want to refer to the attention grabber again.

Evaluate how successfully the students have learned and begun to apply the new content. As adults they may also spontaneously offer evaluations of how effective your class was. Receive evaluative comments as helpful feedback and avoid being defensive.