Techniques for Teaching Adult Learners

Adult learners usually have many responsibilities that need their attention. Among most of them, learning is not an important aspect of life; they have other responsibilities that are more significant compared to learning. Most of them are related to the provision of basic needs for their families. In addition, such learners have a wide range of experience. Some of them have more experience than their teachers. When teaching such students, tutors must, therefore, ensure that their methods are capable of helping them see the relationship between life and the information they teach in class. This paper discusses some of the most effective methods of teaching adults.

The teaching methods in this paper are mainly interactive, experiential and student-centered. Students are more involved than when applying the conventional lecture method. This work discusses individual teaching techniques that fall under these broad categories. It looks at the various aspects of teaching adults that each of the methods addresses, and explains why they are appropriate for adult learners.

At the same time, this paper analyzes what individual writers have said about these teaching techniques. Among the writers whose opinions appear in this paper are Cheryl Polson, Stephen Brookfield, N. J. Mackintosh, Meredith D. Gall, DeNeve and Heppner. These writers have given their views on associative learning, brainstorming, discussion groups, questions and role-plays. This work discusses some of these views, and gives a conclusion on their effectiveness.

The first technique is associative learning. It entails relating current information to what learners already know. Cheryl J. Polson argues that adult learners have gone through many experiences. Therefore, they learn best when new information relates to what they already know (1). She goes further to assert that teaching adults mainly involves helping them re-organize what they already know, as opposed to young learners who mostly take in the new information. N.J. Mackintosh, however, argues that teachers no longer value this teaching technique (qtd. In Walker 68). His argument implies that the entire Conditioning Theory is more applicable to rats than human beings.

I, however, strongly believe that this technique will be very crucial in my future career as a teacher of adult students. Its ability to show learners the link between real life situations and new information makes it very appropriate.

The other applicable technique is brainstorming. This teaching method includes a session where learners contribute ideas and opinions about the topic. Teachers give their learners a freedom to discuss the topic mainly through turn-taking. According to Polson, adult students usually have preconceptions and attitudes towards issues (3). She advises teachers to find ways of knowing each student’s preconceptions before the teaching process begins. Teachers should, however, be cautious while using this method since some adult students are very emotional, and can even challenge them violently (Brookfield 52). Brookfield suggests that teachers can avoid such situations through using experiments to show learners that their ideas are not correct (52). Learners are likely to trust their teacher when they see the ideas working.

Posing questions to learners is another teaching method that is very effective in adult learning. The teacher develops questions that can help learners discover information on their own. According to Polson, questions are very important in integrating what students already know and what the teacher presents in class (3). Meredith D. Gall argues that teachers spend more time asking questions than using any other teaching method (707). He, however, disputes the effectiveness of questions as a teaching technique since some teachers do not know how to relate questions to their objectives. This conclusion means that tutors are not likely to achieve their objectives at the end of learning sessions due to poor framing of questions.

Research shows that discussion groups are also very effective in teaching adult students. Teachers come up with topics and give them to their learners for discussion. The questions need to be specifically designed to cover the teacher’s learning objectives. Polson observes that such groups are important since they give adult learners opportunities to share many experiences (3). Teachers can take charge of these groups or leave everything in the hands of the students.

Groups that students lead are more effective compared to groups whose leaders are the teachers. The reason is the freedom students enjoy during discussions. Brookfield and Preskill argue that this method helps bring out the views of shy learners; especially when learners engage in organized turn-taking sessions (6). They go further to criticize disorganized group discussions arguing that they discourage shy students from participating in discussions.

Role plays are also very effective in adult education. They put learners in situations that are similar to real-life. Such situations mostly require learners to apply the knowledge the tutor intends to deliver using role-plays. Usually, the teacher creates problems that learners need to solve by applying the knowledge they acquire in class. According to DeNeve and Heppner, role-plays as one of the active teaching techniques, enhances discovery of information by learners, and helps them relate their background knowledge to the new knowledge (232). Learning through this method takes place in both the affective and the cognitive domains (Nickerson 1).

Accordingly, learning occurs in these two faculties because role-plays involve learners in enacting roles of people in situations that require both emotional and cognitive involvement. Nickerson further argues that many teachers misuse this method by putting more emphasis on acting rather than trying to relate the plays to their specific teaching objectives. She also criticizes some tutors for asking learners to volunteer and take up roles rather than dividing the class according to the roles available. According to her, volunteering denies shy learners opportunities to take part in learning. Effective learning takes place when the roles are carefully drawn and linked to tutor’s learning objectives.

All these methods are very important in my future teaching career; I am not teaching at the moment. The main reason for their effectiveness is their capability to involve learners in the learning process. Besides, they help learners relate all learning objectives to real life. Adult learners enjoy content that relates directly to life. They will, for example, appreciate learning topics that can help them get enough money for their families compared to abstract topics.

This knowledge will help me discard traditional teaching methods and adopt techniques that engage learners throughout the learning session. It is evident, from what most scholars say, that adult learners are more convinced when they participate in discovering knowledge than when teachers impose knowledge on them. When they take part in discovering knowledge, it becomes easy for them to integrate this new information with their background knowledge.

Works Cited

Brookfield, Stephen. The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990. Print.

Brookfield, Stephen and Stephen Preskill. Discussion as a Way of Teaching, 941-942. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999. Print.

DeNeve, Kristina and Mary J. Heppner. “Role Play simulations: The Assessment of an Active Learning Technique and Comparisons with Traditional Lectures.” InnovativeHigher Education. 21.3 (1997): 231-246. Web.

Gall, Meredith. “The Use of Questions in Teaching.” Review of Educational Research. 40. 5 (1970): 707-721. Web.

Nickerson, Stephanie. “Role Play: An Often Misused Active Learning Strategy.” Essays on Teaching Excellence. 19. 5 (2007-08): 1-2. Web.

Polson, Cheryl. “Teaching Adult Students.” Idea Paper. 29. 1 (1993): 1-5. Web.

Walker, Stephen. “Conditioning and Associative Learning.” International Journal of Psychology. 2.1 (1984): 68-69. Web.

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