Archive for the ‘Andragogy - The Teaching of Adult.’ Category

Motivating Adult Online Learners

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

When Sheri Litt became dean of arts and sciences at Florida State College’s Open Campus, one of her priorities was to address the issue of online learner satisfaction and success. “We started looking at the data,” Litt says. “We looked at students’ comments on surveys to find out what they were disappointed with in their online courses. And a lot of comments [said, in essence,] ‘I felt my instructor didn’t care’ or ‘I felt my instructor would just log in once every six weeks’ or ‘It would take an entire semester for the instructor to grade an assignment, and [he or she] didn’t really give me any feedback so I could develop my skills.’” Based on this qualitative approach, Litt and her colleagues developed a set of best practices that have improved student motivation, satisfaction, and success.


The majority of online learners at FSC’s Open Campus are age 25 or older—adult learners with busy schedules. One of the principles of teaching adult learners is the idea of relevance. “[They ask,] ‘What can I learn in my class that won’t just be for a grade but also can be something that I can take away, something that will be useful to me as an adult?’” Litt says. “When you have an adult population, they don’t want to do something because they have to. They want to understand why it’s important and how it relates to them as adult learners.”


Another characteristic of adult online learners is the need for flexibility. “Among our faculty, we try to shift the culture so that when working with adult learners, it’s not one size fits all. Flexibility is really the key,” says Amy Moore, program manager for instruction. “We want our instructors to be mindful of the fact that our online learners are preoccupied with other things going on in their lives, and while we want to make sure that they are learning, if a student is having some personal issues, we should allow the student to submit an assignment late rather than being unyielding and rigid.”

by Rob Kelly

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Understanding Adult Learners’ Needs

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Understanding learner needs is essential for providing quality education. One approach for accomplishing this is through the use of student evaluations. A common argument against the use of student evaluations is that students do not know their own needs. However, many studies have shown student feedback/suggestions to be reliable and valid. If we do not even attempt to understand their needs, we may fail to recognize the support they require to be successful.

To understand what adult learners need from their instructors, 2,719 students at a Singapore university were asked what their instructors could improve on as part of the end-of-course evaluation. The students’ suggestions were then filtered, analyzed and organized across seven categorizes, loosely reflecting the seven principles of good teaching outlined by Chickering and Gamson (1987). In this article, I’ve summarized the students’ key suggestions.

Engaging Students in Active Learning
A commonly held assumption is that students like to take the easiest routes/short-cuts and prefer to be passive learners. Despite the fact that adult learners are busy individuals, the student feedback suggested that they do want to be engaged in active learning. They wanted their lessons to be interesting, practical and applicable.

Here are some of their suggestions for facilitating engaging lessons:

  • use meaningful and purposeful learning activities
  • ask stimulating questions
  • use appropriate and relevant multimedia tools/technology to engage students
  • incorporate real-life and application-based examples
  • interact with students and effectively manage group discussions

Presenting Effectively
Adult learners seemed to appreciate well-prepared, clear presentations. This is possibly because of two reasons: (1) they have limited time in class and they want to get the most out of the class time, (2) adult learners are more experienced and expect quality presentations. Some suggestions are:

  • be well-prepared and organized
  • use a microphone and write legibly
  • be non-monotonous and lively
  • use effective pauses to give students time to think and take notes

Managing Time
As working adults are pressed for time, they are time conscious and therefore value punctuality and well-paced classes. Some suggestions to manage time effectively are:

  • be punctual in starting and ending lessons
  • structure and pace lessons effectively
  • minimize unnecessary deviations or repetitions
  • avail sufficient time for consultation before or after class time

Communicating Expectations
Adult learners want their instructors to communicate clearly their expectations for the course and specific assignments. They asked that instructors:

  • be well-informed on policy matters/practices at institution
  • be familiar with the course structure and exam matters
  • provide clear instruction pertaining to the course such as assessment requirements, and rubrics
  • set the expectations right from the very first lesson
  • guide students on handling exam questions/assessment questions (answering techniques rather than the answer itself)

Sharing Timely and Relevant Resources
Contrary to the general assumption that adult learners have little free time and therefore may not read ahead of class, our students requested for the uploading of materials well-ahead of the class meeting. They asked that instructors:

  • upload lecture materials at least three days before class
  • summarize what was discussed during learning activities/online discussions so that there is a closure
  • make available recorded lectures, if possible
  • provide additional resources such as references, video links and case studies for self-study
  • let the materials be available throughout the entire period of the course.

by Nachamma Sockalingam.

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5 Crucial Skills for the Teacher of Adults

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Are you ready to teach the adults in your class? If you have doubts, you’re not alone, and we’re here to help. We’ve got 5 crucial skills you should continue to develop throughout your career, and we’re continuing to develop along with you.

Need something you don’t see here? Write to us at and let us know. We’re here for you.

1.  Understand Andragogy:

What is andragogy? Very simply, it’s the teaching of adults. It’s important for you, as a teacher, to understand the difference between teaching children and teaching adults, and there are differences.

2.  Plan Well:

You already know you can’t go into the classroom without a plan. No teacher does.

3.  Manage Your Classroom:

Disruptions can happen in any classroom. Be prepared when they happen in yours. Adult students can be opinionated. How will you deal with the ones who step out of bounds?

4.  Inspire Your Students:

It’s your job to inspire your students to learn. We all know that’s easier said than done with some students.

5.  Continue to Improve:

Every teacher I know is automatically wired to improve continuously. I’m sure you’re no different, so these are things you likely already know.

by Deb Peterson.

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5 Principles of Teaching Adults

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

The teacher of adults has a different job from the one who teaches children. If you’re teaching adult students, it’s important to understand the five principles of teaching adults. It’s important to know how adults learn.

Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the study of adult learning, observed that adults learn best when:

Principle 1 :  Make Sure Your Adults Understand “Why

Most adult students are in your classroom because they want to be. Some of them are there because they have Continuing Education requirements to keep a certificate current, but most are there because they’ve chosen to learn something new.

This principle is not about why your students are in your classroom, but about why each thing you teach them is an important part of the learning.

Principle 2:  Respect that Your Students Have Different Learning Styles:

There are three general learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

Visual learners rely on pictures. They love graphs, diagrams, and illustrations. “Show me,” is their motto. They often sit in the front of the classroom to avoid visual obstructions and to watch you, the teacher. They want to know what the subject looks like. You can best communicate with them by providing handouts, writing on the white board, and using phrases like, “Do you see how this works?”

Auditory learners listen carefully to all sounds associated with the learning. “Tell me,” is their motto. They will pay close attention to the sound of your voice and all of its subtle messages, and they will actively participate in discussions. You can best communicate with them by speaking clearly, asking questions, and using phrases like, “How does that sound to you?”

Kinesthetic learners need to physically do something to understand it. Their motto is “Let me do it.” They trust their feelings and emotions about what they’re learning and how you’re teaching it. They want to actually touch what they’re learning. They are the ones who will get up and help you with role playing. You can best communicate with them by involving volunteers, allowing them to practice what they’re learning, and using phrases like, “How do you feel about that?”

Principle 3:  Allow Your Students to Experience What They’re Learning:

Experience can take many forms. Any activity that gets your students involved makes the learning experiential. This includes small group discussions, experiments, role playing, skits, building something at their table or desk, writing or drawing something specific – activity of any kind. Activities also keep people energized, especially activities that involve getting up and moving about.

The other aspect of this principle is honoring the life experiences your students bring to the classroom. Be sure to tap into that wealth of wisdom whenever it’s appropriate. You’ll have to be a good timekeeper because people can talk for hours when asked for personal experiences, but the extra facilitation needed will be well worth the gems your students have to share.

Principle 4:  When the Student Is Ready, the Teacher Appears:

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears” is a Buddhist proverb packed with wisdom. No matter how hard a teacher tries, if the student isn’t ready to learn, chances are good he or she won’t. What does this mean for you as a teacher of adults? Luckily, your students are in your classroom because they want to be. They’ve already determined that the time is right.

It’s your job to listen carefully for teaching moments and take advantage of them. When a student says or does something that triggers a topic on your agenda, be flexible and teach it right then. If that would wreak havoc on your schedule, which is often the case, teach a bit about it rather than saying flat out that they’ll have to wait until later in the program. By then, you may have lost their interest.

Principle 5:  Encourage Your Adult Students:

For most adults, being out of the classroom for even a few years can make going back to school intimidating. If they haven’t taken a class in decades, it’s understandable that they would have some degree of apprehension about what it will be like and how well they’ll do. It can be tough to be a rookie when you’ve been an expert in your field for many, many years. Nobody enjoys feeling foolish.

Your job as a teacher of adult students includes being positive and encouraging. Patience helps too. Give your older students time to respond when you ask a question. They may need a few moments to consider their answer. Recognize the contributions they make, even when small. Give them words of encouragement whenever the opportunity arises. Most adults will rise to your expectations if you’re clear about them.

A word of caution here. Being positive and encouraging is not the same as being condescending. Always remember that your students are adults. Speaking to them in the tone of voice you might use with a child is offensive, and the damage can be very difficult to overcome. Genuine encouragement from one person to another, regardless of age, is a wonderful point of human interaction.

by Deb Peterson.

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Classroom Preparation – Inspire Creativity

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Preparing the tables in your adult classroom can mean the difference between a boring class and a creative class. Imagine sitting down to a bare table. Boring. Now imagine sitting down at a table spread with colorful markers, small creativity-inspiring toys, name tags and name cards on which to draw, whatever you can find that might inspire conversation about your topic.

Color inspires creativity. So does fun. And it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Consider putting some of the following on your classroom tables:

  • Colored markers (maybe even scented ones!)
  • Colored pencils
  • Crayons
  • Name tags and place cards to personalize
  • Hacky sacks
  • Gumby and Pokey
  • Rubber ducks
  • Matchbox cars
  • Silly Putty
  • Curious paperweights
  • Small mechanical toys
  • Legos
  • Small stuffed animals

One of the advantages of having little “play things” on your tables is that you can use them for introductions. Ask each person to choose something and explain why when they introduce themselves.

Be creative. Keep your eye out for small, fun, curious and colorful objects that might inspire creativity in your classroom.

by Deb Peterson.

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Manage Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Establishing Norms:

Setting classroom norms at the very beginning of a class is one of the best methods of classroom management. Hang a flip chart or poster, or dedicate a section of white board if you have the space, and list expected classroom behaviors. Refer to this list when disruptions occur. Using a flip chart or white board can be especially useful because you can involve students in the construction of the list on the first day and in that way get buy-in. Start with a few of your own expectations and ask the group for additional suggestions. When you all agree on how you want the classroom to be managed, disruptions are minimal.

Your list of norms may look something like this:

  • Start and end on time
  • Turn off or silence cell phones
  • Save texting for breaks
  • Respect the contributions of others
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Resolve differences calmly
  • Stay on topic

Saving Questions for Later:

It’s always a good idea to address questions of any kind when they occur because curiosity provides fabulous teaching moments, but sometimes it just isn’t appropriate to get off track. Many teachers use a flip chart or white board as a holding place for such questions to ensure they’re not forgotten. Call your holding place something appropriate to your topic. I’ve seen parking lots and flower pots. Be creative. When a question being held is eventually answered, mark it off the list.

Managing Mild Disruptions:

Unless you’ve got a completely obnoxious student in your classroom, chances are good that disruptions, when they do occur, will be fairly mild, calling for mild management. We’re talking about disruptions like chatting in the back of the room, texting, or someone who is argumentative or disrespectful.

Try one, or more, if necessary, of the following tactics:

  • Make eye contact with the disruptive person
  • Remind the group of the agreed-upon norms
  • Move toward the disruptive person
  • Stand directly in front of the person
  • Be silent and wait for the disruption to end
  • Acknowledge the input, if appropriate, and go on
  • Ask for help from the group
    • “What does everyone else think?”
  • Rearrange the seating if you think it will help
  • Call for a break

Handling Persistent Disruptions:

For more serious problems, or if the disruption persists:

  • Speak with the person privately
  • Confront the behavior, not the person
  • Speak for yourself only, not the class
  • Seek to understand the reason for the disruption
  • Ask the person to recommend a solution
  • Review your expectations of classroom behavior if necessary
  • Try to get agreement on expected norms
  • Explain any consequences of continued disruptions

Sharing Challenges:

It’s generally unprofessional to share frustrations about individual students with other teachers who may be influenced toward that person in the future. This doesn’t mean you can’t consult with others. Just choose your confidants carefully. One safe place is in the Continuing Education forum. It’s a great place to share problems, stories, and solutions.

by Deb Peterson.

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5 Tips from a Teacher of Adult Students

Thursday, June 7th, 2012
Teaching adults can be very different from teaching children, or even students of traditional college age. Andrea Leppert, M.A., an adjunct instructor at Rasmussen College in Aurora/Naperville, IL, teaches speech communication to students seeking degrees. Many of her students are adults, and she’s got five key recommendations for other teachers of adult students.

1.  Treat Adult Students Like Adults, Not Kids:

Adult students are more sophisticated, more experienced than younger students, and they should be treated like adults, Leppert says, not like teenagers or kids. Adult students benefit from respectful examples of how to use new skills in real life.

Many adult students have been out of the classroom for a long time. Leppert recommends establishing basic rules, or etiquette, in your classroom, like raising a hand to ask a question.

2.  Be Prepared to Move Fast:

Many adult students have jobs and families, and all of the responsibilities that come with jobs and families. Be prepared to move fast so you don’t waste anyone’s time, Leppert advises. She packs every class with information and useful activities. She also balances every other class with working time, or lab time, giving students an opportunity to do some of their homework in class.

“They’re very busy,” Leppert says, “and you’re setting them up for failure if you expect them to be a traditional student.”

3.  Be Strictly Flexible:

“Be strictly flexible,” Leppert says. “It’s a new combination of words, and it means to be diligent, yet understanding, of busy lives, illness, working late…basically “life” that gets in the way of learning.”

Leppert builds a safety net into her classes, allowing two late assignments. She suggests teachers consider giving students two “late coupons” to use when other responsibilities take precedent over finishing assignments on time.

“A late coupon,” she says, “helps you be flexible while still demanding excellent work.”

4.  Teach Creativity:

Creative teaching is by far the most useful tool I use to teach adult learners,” Leppert says.

Every quarter or semester, the vibe in your classroom is sure to be different, with personalities ranging from chatty to serious. Leppert acclimates to the vibe of her classroom and uses students’ personalities in her teaching.

“I pick activities that will entertain them, and I try new things I find on the Internet every quarter,” she says. “Some turn out great, and some flop, but it keeps things interesting, which keeps attendance high and students interested.”

She also partners highly motivated students with less-skilled students when assigning projects.

5.  Encourage Personal Growth:

Young students are encouraged to perform well on standardized tests compared to their peers. Adults, on the other hand, challenge themselves. Leppert’s grading system includes personal growth in abilities and skills. “I compare the first speech to the last when I grade,” she says. “I make notations for each student on how they are personally improving.”This helps build confidence, Leppert says, and gives students tangible suggestions for improvement. School is hard enough, she adds. Why not point out the positive!

by Deb Peterson.

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Tips for Teaching Adult Students

Friday, January 27th, 2012

With the number of non-traditional students growing, many educators have discovered that adult learners are fundamentally different than their younger counterparts in many ways. Yet, most instructors have been left to their own devices to figure out how best to reach these students who come to class with an entirely different set of challenges, demands and expectations, and generally at a much different level of maturity.

How can instructors better accommodate and encourage adult student success in a classroom setting? Here are a number of ways to create a better environment for adult learners, no matter what the subject material.

  • Treat them like the adults they are. Adult learners are generally more sophisticated and experienced than their younger counterparts and they benefit from realistic examples of skills they can use in “real life.” “Adult learners will be empowered as they discover they have a great deal to teach their younger classmates, and the dynamic is mutually beneficial,” said Thomas Lisack, an instructor at Rasmussen College in Wausau, WI. Lisack recommends incorporating intergenerational discussions on issues that otherwise have a generational divide as appropriate for the subject matter to engage learners of all ages.
  • Be aware that their classroom skills may be “rusty.” Some adult learners have not been in a classroom for 30 years, so you may need to remind them of basic rules and etiquette, such as raising a hand if you have a question. At the same time, reassure them that, as the instructor, you will not be judgmental of their life experiences or their perspectives, and that they will be evaluated only on their mastery of the content. Be generous when it comes to formatting issues such as APA writing guidelines. Instead, focus on content. “I have found adult learners to be self-conscious, even apologetic, when it comes to being in the classroom,”
  • Consider and acknowledge the technology gap. Students in their 50s and 60s are generally not nearly as tech savvy—or tech dependent, as some would argue—as 18 or even 30 year olds. Assess each student’s level of proficiency as it relates to class requirements and compensate.
  • Be efficient with lessons and activities. “Move fast and don’t waste anyone’s time,” advises Andrea Leppert, adjunct instructor at Rasmussen College in Aurora/Naperville, IL. “Adult students have jobs, sometimes children and tons of responsibilities, so pack every class with information and useful activities.”
  • Be creative: Use the unique vibe or personality of each class to teach the lesson and choose activities that engage, and even entertain to some degree. Pair highly motivated students with those less skilled on projects to create peer encouragement and mentoring.

by Brooks Doherty.

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