Three Ways to Engage the Adult Learner

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 -- Mandy Groen

Educating adult learners comes with unique challenges. Adult learners are incredibly diverse, and they have very diverse needs. Three of the main challenges that educators see with these learners are:

  • Adult learners in the same program may have varying goals
  • The scope of their incoming knowledge can be quite different
  • Adult learners have multiple levels of need

Because of these unique challenges, a traditional classroom setup does not usually engage and motivate learners. You need to have solutions that can be as differentiated as your students are.

Flexible and Diverse Resources

Every adult learner has a different background, set of skill gaps, and academic or career goals. Even though your learners may be very diverse, it is important that they are working on relevant content that will help them master the skills they have not already obtained. Having flexible and wide-ranging resources can help educators meet this challenge and keep their learners engaged. This will prevent learners from becoming bored with content they have already mastered or find irrelevant, as well as keep them from becoming discouraged if the work is too difficult or advanced. 

Access to Data

Having flexible and wide-ranging resources is important, and equally important is having a way to determine which resources should be used for which learner and when to use them. Using a system of benchmarking assessments can help you use data to drive instruction. Assessments, whether summative or formative, are the most accurate way to pinpoint students’ strengths and gaps and to inform your decisions. Ultimately, they will help you appropriately place your learner in the curriculum.

Personalized Instruction

Using data to determine the specific needs of each learner, combined with the resources to support those needs, will enable you to differentiate instruction for your learners. Being able to provide this individualized learning path will help alleviate many barriers that can traditionally prevent adult learners from meeting their goals. Personalized instruction will help your learners see how everything they are working on is directly tied to meeting their academic or career goals. It will also help them work at a level that is appropriate for them, not too remedial and not too advanced.