[Adult Education] Four Strategies for Effective Professional Development

Friday, April 22, 2016 -- Sarah Cornelius

Adult learners come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and all have distinctive situations, skills sets, knowledge gaps, and challenges. As such, it’s key for adult education instructors to effectively identify their learners’ strengths and weaknesses early and provide instruction that addresses their unique situational needs.

To empower educators to provide this kind of differentiated instruction, it’s critical that institutions take a proactive approach to professional development (PD) geared specifically towards this audience. Regular, relevant, and collaborative opportunities for PD help educators master strategies to identify and address the specific challenges of adult learners and tailor their instruction to a widely varying range of skills and life experiences.

What does this kind of specialized PD look like? Here are four training initiatives key to successful professional development for adult education instructors:   

1)  Build foundational knowledge

A strong grasp of pedagogy and content is necessary for all educators. Effective PD should provide engaging, in-depth resources that help adult education instructors continuously grow their knowledge base in their subject area, as well as improve their understanding of adult teaching standards and methodology. Giving instructors resources on how to incorporate soft skills such as goal setting, study habits, and writing skills into their curriculum is key to helping them address the needs, challenges, and objectives of adult learners.  

2)  Create a positive learning environment  

Training for adult education instructors must promote value and respect for differentiation. Educators need to be empowered to address the individual needs of their learners while embracing their diversity and varied background knowledge. Frank discussion about what an equitable and respectful learning environment looks like is valuable, and educators must set this tone and expectations to make such an environment a reality in their classroom.

3)  Focus on formative assessment

Given the widely varying backgrounds of adult learners, it’s imperative for their instructors to be adept at creating and administering informal formative assessments. These assessments provide data that is key to identifying learners’ areas of strength and weakness, and ultimately delivering targeted instruction. Effective PD should emphasize what the process of formative assessment looks like, including examples that are most suited to an adult audience. Following administration, educators should be armed with strategies to effectively evaluate the data assessments produce to establish learner baselines and deliver the right content.  It’s also important that adult education instructors be trained in offering opportunities for their learners to use this data to self-evaluate and analyze their own performance.

4)  Make real world connections

Adult learners seek education with a variety of goals—and given their ranges of real-world experience, these goals are often very well defined. To keep these learners engaged, educators need to not only cover all necessary academic content but connect their instruction to learners’ unique life experiences and career goals. This requires efficient and strategic planning. Adult education PD should place focus on developing the skills to align learning objectives with direct career application. This helps educators create a motivational environment where learning is connected to real world experiences and performance is transferable to activities outside of the classroom. 

Professional development focused around the unique challenges faced by adult learners and their educators is key to facilitating successful learning experiences. Interested in additional resources for effective professional development for adult education instructors? Learn more about how Edmentum Adult + HigherEd solutions can provide continuous support for your program or institution through our AR3 program

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