How to Teach Adults

Teaching adults greatly differs from teaching children, as it brings a whole new range of psychological challenges. If you are about to teach a class full of grown ups, then it is important that you know how. The techniques or the methods that you need to use vary depending on several parameters, such as the ethnic background of majority of the students in class, the age group, gender dominance etc. Your teaching style, when teaching adults, should be such that it keeps them motivated, focused, challenged, and always wanting to come back for more. Creating a learner-centered environment in your classroom and understanding the expectations and needs of students will help you in making the process more enjoyable and fruitful.

Understanding the psychology

It is important first to understand the psychology of an adult learner before you start teaching. Always remember that adults expect certain things from their lecturers, such as:

  • Entertain questions at any point of time during the class, don't wait for the question and answers session at the end of the class

    Entertain questions at any point of time during the class, don't wait for the question and answers session at the end of the class

    Organization and relevancy in the module structure

  • Lecturers must be subject matter experts, and willing to modify their teaching style according to their needs
  • Lecturers should state clear learning goals for the class and not waste time in “superficialities”
  • They should use problem solving and active learning techniques in lectures
  • Recognition of individual learning development by encouraging self-directed learning

The three R’s

The three most important things to remember while teaching adults are:

Respect:

  • Provide adult learners the opportunity to incorporate their life experiences in classroom discussions
  • Provide a variety of teaching techniques and be responsive to individual learning needs of adult students
  • Incorporate each student’s personal goals and motivation into the class whenever possible
  • Respect their time by starting and ending lectures on time and ensuring a well organized lecture
  • Avoid calling them for extra classes. Remember, academics and profession are not the only concerned aspects of our lives
  • Respect the interrelationship among students, and do pay heed to their opinions and concerns

Relevance:

  • Help the students relate what they learn in class, to their personal interests and life
  • Provide examples of real life scenarios, prepare and distribute case studies as group assignments

Responsibility:

  • Recognize your students’ developmental state, and understand that they are individuals with jobs and personal responsibilities
  • Recognize that they will go through developmental stages during learning; starting as dependent learners till they gain maturity in terms of knowledge pertaining to the field

Lesson Plans

Emphasize more on planning lessons, so that it includes the method of instruction, strategies of instruction, student involvement, and oral presentation. Supplement your lectures with written handouts, blackboard or whiteboard illustrations, question and answer sessions, student and teacher activities, and other means. A lesson plan will also help the teacher to check if he/she is going in the right direction. Therefore,

  • A lesson plan should consider the content, goals, and the understanding level of students that are to be taught
  • It should also contain instructional goals and objectives, rationale, instructional procedures, evaluation procedure, and study materials to be used
  • Plans for evaluation and revision

Presentations

Teaching adult students will be most effective when the instructor uses his skills to deliver the lecture in such a manner that it engages all students deeply. A lot of planning and care must go into the presentation as it is the key element in keeping the audience’s attention at bay. The presentation should focus on the objectives, create a framework, and stimulate the interest of students.

  • The presentation should begin with an outline which should be structured according to the depth of the topic being taught
  • Start the presentation in such a manner that it immediately attracts the students’ attention. You can do this by telling a story or a real life experience. You can also involve students in this to motivate and engage them in the learning process
  • Be careful not to overstep or demean the intelligence of students, it’s a suicidal practice
  • Use a lot of questions in your presentation to prompt student-teacher interaction. This is very important to ensure an effective lecture
  • Making declarative statements reflecting the thinking of students is also a good strategy for making presentations
  • However, remember that only questioning your students will not always take form of student involvement, you need to take extra efforts to ensure that your teaching session is interactive

Questioning strategies

Ask your students questions at regular intervals during a lecture, to check their understanding of the subject being taught. You can also check if they have mastered the basic concepts and encourage critical thinking by giving somewhat challenging scenarios to decode. The aim of questioning should be to:

  • Establish two-way communication
  • Stimulate students to be attentive and interested
  • Motivate them to take interest in the subject
  • Helping them to speak up in class effectively
  • Boost the exploration and expansion of their imagination

Course design

The course design, which plays a crucial role in teaching adults, must include the following to take form of a successful academic training program:

  • It should challenge students to attain higher levels of learning such as problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, and creative thinking
  • It should use active forms of learning such as interactive games, and not just rely on reading and listening, and must support all learning goals and objectives
  • Ensure that students receive continuous feedback on their learning. Take one on one sessions out of pure interest for their progress, and you’ll see the effects seeping in sooner than you can imagine.
  • Finally, the course design should include a fair system of grading and assessing adult students, which should be objective, flexible, and based on learning.

Additional tips & reminders

  • Make sure that students understand why learning a particular subject or concept is important. Introduce them to the uses of a specific piece of information. Very few do this, but this is a practice that ensures optimal response from the students.
  • Give your students the freedom to learn in their own style. Teaching adults will never be easy unless you adapt to their needs.
  • Make sure that the student really wants to learn; you cannot force education onto anyone. Certain things are only to be taught at the right place, at the right time
  • Take your learning outside the classroom. Occasionally organize interactive sessions in the campus. This initiates interest and motivation. Consider your relationship with a student as personal, be friendly.
  • Always remember that adult students also need to be motivated and encouraged throughout the learning process


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