There are distinct differences in the learning styles of adult learners and the younger college population. You should keep these differences in mind when designing or teaching a course with adult students.
Younger Learners are…
Adult Learners are…
Subject-oriented, seeking to successfully complete each course, regardless of how the course relates to their own goals.
Problem-centered and seek educational solutions that will take them from where they are to where they want to be in their life or profession.
Future-oriented, since they are often in a stage of life when education is a mandatory or expected activity and designed for their future.
Results-oriented, with specific results in mind for education. Because their participation is often voluntary, adults may drop out if the education they are receiving does not lead to those results
Often dependent on others for direction.
Self-directed, and typically do not depend on others for direction.
Usually accepting of new information without seriously questioning it or trying it out.
Often skeptical about new information, preferring to try it out before accepting it.
Seeking education that prepares them for an often unclear future so may not look for immediate application of learning.
Looking for education that relates or applies directly to perceived needs, and is timely and appropriate for their current lives.
Dependent on others to design their learning and sometimes reluctant to accept responsibility for their own learning.
Willing to accept responsibility for their own learning, as long as they see that learning as timely and appropriate.
Certain teaching strategies can be more effective with adult learners.
Adult Learner Characteristics
Adults have years of experience and a wealth of knowledge
Adults have established values, beliefs, and opinions
Adults expect to be treated as adults
Adults need to feel self-directed
Adults often have a problem-centered approach to learning
Adults tend to be more interested in straightforward how-to than in survey type courses
Adults have increased variation in learning styles, since individual differences increase with age
Remember that adults…
- Are more self-guided in their learning.
- Bring more, and expect to bring more, to a learning situation because of their wider experience.
- Can also take more away because of their greater experience.
- Require learning "to make sense," and may not participate in a learning activity just because the instructor says to do it
Instruction designed for adults tends to be more effective if it is learner-centered. Maintain a careful balance between the presentation of new material and its applications, discussion and participation among students, and the academic calendar.