Characteristics of Adult Learners

Because the adult learner is primarily in charge of their own learning, the teacher of adults has a different audience than the one who teaches children.  Malcolm S. Knowles (1973), a pioneer in adult learning, noted the following characteristics of adult learners:

  • Need to know why they are learning something
  • Learn by doing 
  • Are problem solvers 
  • Learn best when the subject is of immediate use 
  • Prefer social interaction 
  • Want to use their life experiences in the classroom 
  • Want to integrate new ideas with existing knowledge

Tips for Teaching Adults 

  • Use a variety of teaching and learning methods, including discussion, hands-on learning, case studies, simulations, demonstrations, guest speakers (be creative).
  • Encourage active participation in discussions, use breakout groups for more personal interaction.
  • Use a variety of resources, such as publications, videos, webinars, photos.
  • Make the learning relevant to what the learners will be doing when they leave the classroom.
  • Spend less time lecturing and let learners work on solving problems.
  • Plan some activities where adult learners can direct their own learning.
  • Provide a supportive learning environment with multiple resources, breaks, and opportunities to ask questions and correct mistakes.

A Short Video on Teaching Adult Learners



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