Teaching adults: Make it germane, respect their experience

Many of us don’t think much about the elements of a successful learning program for adults.

Many of us don’t think much about the elements of a successful learning program for adults.

For many, our learning experiences are centered around the traditional classroom. We sat in ordered rows of seats while a teacher instructed us in various subjects, often through lecture.

Even if you attended college, the traditional model was still predominant. In many cases, a typical classroom of 50 years ago looks very similar to those of today.

However, the design and makeup of a classroom are slowly evolving, and for classes where adults are the primary audience, it is changing more and more. When teaching adults, care must be taken to respect their experience and existing level of knowledge.

Very simply put, teaching children is often referred to as pedagogy, and teaching adults can be referred to andragogy.

In a pedagogical approach to learning, the student depends on the instructor for all learning and with very little experience in the subject matter.

Adults, on the other hand, arrive at the learning space with a rich history, experience and prior learning that requires a change in approach to instruction.

Because of this, the instructor may have adult learners in the classroom with more experience or knowledge of a given subject matter. It is more important for the instructor to guide their learning rather than specifically impart information to them. Empower, rather than dictate.

There are several assumptions about adult learners that if followed can help understand their motivations to learn and set up appropriate learning environments:

NEED TO KNOW: Adult learners often ask “Why do I need to know this?” They need to know why something is important and why it applies to their life or profession.

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