Motivating Adult Learners

I came across an interesting article about motivating adult learners.  It highlights some key characteristics of adult learners and how course design should contemplate their learning styles.  While much of what is presented could be considered "common sense", it does do a good job of providing an overview of the unique characteristics of an adult learner, along with strategies to accommodate their learning and motivational needs. 

Central to the article is the definition of an adult learner - which could include college students.  This is important as it sets the stage for a discussion of how to establish a learning setting and motivation strageties for a more mature and self-motivated student who has more life experience, established habits and tastes, many obligations outside of class and (most importantly?) options. For the purpose of the article, the definition includes an individual who:

  • "performs roles associated by our culture with adults", and
  • "perceives himself / herself to be responsible for his/her own life".

Given the maturity level of an adult learner, the author proposes a learning environment that is rich with activities that "allow maximum participation by learners so they can invest their expereince and values in the learning process."  Suggestions include estabishing a learning environment that:

  • encourages past experiences
  • is collaborative between instructor-student and student-student
  • incoroprates "experiential activities"

The role of the instructor is viewed as managing "the process", but not managing "the content" where the instructor primarily facilitates versus lectures.  Instructors should offer clarity, empathy and expertise, while always showing enthusiasm.  All of this builds credibility in the eyes of the adult learner.  Additionally, adult learners benefit from being "actively involved in establishing the learning objectives."  While the author warns that instructors should not allow students to "call the shots", instructors should provide students the opporutnity to take a stake in setting their objectives.

Suggested strategies to help motivate the adult learner include:

  • presenting material in "chunks" and building on material using a "whole-part-whole" concept that begins with a wide view (to show the relevance, followed by the details, then a summary based on the whole
  • making the material relevant (such as relating to the learner's current job) and explaining why the material is relevant (adult learners aren't always an easy "sell")
  • providing a lot of documentation and options to explore the material
  • establishing group interactions
  • incorporating flexibility (1) to allow learners to try new things and (2) to accommodate their outside work and home life


Motivating Adult Learners

Looks like you plagiarized most of what you've written. Wow!


So, you find it fun to hide behind "Anonymous" comments? Wow!

If I had used something

If I had used something archaic like microfiche, I would have experienced a phenomenal coincidence; but this is the Internet and I was fortunate to have put in the right query. First, I read "They're not just kids: Motivating adult learners". Then I happened to find this blog entry. I'm glad I did. Jennifer's comments reinforced the fact that I'm not archaic. Having read the article and subsequent comments, I have been on the right track. The group of students that I have range in age from early twenties to mid forties, all possessing a wealth of experience and repetoire of knowledge. It is apparent that they want to want to succeed.
This term just seems so tedious. I used to incorporate such a variety of activities, but now the time has been scaled back from 12 weeks to 8 weeks. The content has multiplied exponentially in the last ten years and a greater emphasis has been placed on creating products and evidence. These students have been deluged by a torrential rain of "accreditation-style" objectives in education--especially special ed. I keep telling myself that the courseload is good for self-discipline, developing strong time-management skills, and accountability--all traits of an effective teacher. However, there should still be "fun." I need to go back to incorporating some "out-of-the-box" activities that I relished as a student.
I'm going to use Jennifer's entry as an example of how to effectively summarize journal articles without being excessively myt students can rely on their intuition and "common sensea' as per

Hi Jennifer, Nice write-up

Hi Jennifer,

 Nice write-up and one I can definitely relate to. I've been teaching EFL in Asia for about five years - mostly to kids but also occasionally to adults. It's definitely a different ballgame with adults and you'd better bring your "A-Game" to the table - my adult students like to hit me with doozies like "What's the difference between a collocation and an idiom?" Surprised

 A big difference between adults and kids is that the kids usually have to be there, while the adults choose to be there. A kid at a language school in Korea is there because his Mom is making him go, but an adult is using their own money to buy a product - your services; if you don't deliver the goods they will walk.

Contrary to the article's findings, most of my adult Japanese students prefer a teacher-centered approach. I try to get them to do conversations in pairs or groups (to get them more "talk time") but the activity usually quickly grinds to a halt when everyone else eavesdrops on the conversation I'm having with another student. I asked them which they preferred: a big discussion with me serving as the moderator or smaller discussions in smaller groups - they all preferred the former over the latter.