The Best Teaching Methods to Adults

by Jewell Briscoe

Studies in adult learning theory show that adults prefer courses that focus heavily on application of concepts to relevant issues. To retain and use new information they need to be able to integrate the information with what they already know. Tasks must be slow to moderate pace and not complex or unusual to avoid interference with adult learning. Adults prefer a personalized learning environment with focused effort on concept application where they can solve problems and take personal responsibility.

Use Self-Directed Learning

Design programs for all generational groups because there will be different viewpoints and value sets in a learning environment. Concepts should be explained from more than one viewpoint and appeal to adult learners in different age groups. Adults prefer self-directed learning over group learning. Self-directed learning does not mean isolated learning; it involves using other people as resources, subject matter experts, guides and encouragers. Adults prefer more than one method of learning. They like learning via auditory, visual and kinesthetic means.

Set Expectations Upfront

Set expectations at the beginning of the class. Since adults have learning and classroom expectations, it is vital that the instructor clarifies and thoroughly articulates all expectations before discussing the content. The instructor's and the learners' expectations should be discussed and noted. The instructor can assume responsibility only for her expectations, not those of the learners. One expectation that a good instructor will have is for learners to actively participate in the learning process. A good instructor knows that new and old knowledge have to be integrated and applied to achieve knowledge retention and learning success.

Use Life Experiences

Tap into the broad range of life experiences that each learner brings to the learning environment. Life experience is a valuable asset that should be acknowledged and used because adults learn well when they share experiences with one another. One of the best ways to pull knowledge and experience from learners is to use open-ended questions to draw out relevant knowledge and experience. An open-ended question is one with more than a one-word answer; the answer has to be expounded upon to thoroughly address the question.

Create a Comfortable Environment

Teach adults with books, television, programmed instruction, "how-to" content and applications. Adult learners positively rate short seminars and lectures as a preferred learning method because these venues give them face-to-face and one-on-one access to an expert. The lectures must be short because adults tend to have a high level of irritability if they have to sit for long periods in a learning environment. The environment must be physically and psychologically comfortable, and they should have time to practice what they are learning.

Feedback and Practice

Provide feedback during skills practice sessions. Learners depend on the instructor to give them feedback to let them know how they are doing, if they are grasping the concepts and ideas, and for confirmation. Likewise, the instructor is dependent on learners for feedback about curriculum and her classroom performance. This valuable information gives the instructor the opportunity to make midstream changes to positively affect the learning environment if needed.

Balance Time and Discussion

Allow adult learners to somewhat control the pace of the class and start and stop time without losing control of the class. A good instructor knows how to balance time, presentation, discussion and debate and still go with the flow, while maintaining facilitative control. An adult learner does best in an environment in which the instructor acts as orchestrator using facilitative skills and control to keep disagreements civil, protect and connect opinions and ideas, and suggest solutions to problems.

About the Author

Jewell Briscoe has been writing health-related, beauty, business and training and development articles since 1990. Her articles have appeared in “Coping” magazine and various online publications. She is a management learning and development consultant and holds a Bachelor of Science in communications from Middle Tennessee State University.

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