Delivering Instruction to the Adult Learner

Delivering Instruction to the Adult Learner

Lawrence A. Tomei (Robert Morris University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-824-6.ch011
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Abstract

There is no commonly accepted definition of an adult learner. The best that most educators are able to do (and still feel relatively satisfied with the attempt) is to recognize certain characteristics commonly attributed to adults. For example, adult students characteristically engage is multiple roles that affect both the amount and quality of time they devote to learning. Too, adults typically bring more life experiences to the classroom than traditional students. Experiences often provide a rich source for grounding their learning and for building a basis for new knowledge. Sometimes, these experiences interfere with learning and must be set aside, replaced with new schemata for acting on novel situations. Many adults find that formal education (especially returning to school after years spent in pursuit of career goals) serves as an especially uneasy transition point in their lives. As adults move through a series of stages such as education, insecurity and uncertainty is commonplace. Adult students frequently have established educational goals (especially when compared to their traditional counterparts). They are more likely paying for their education, focused on off-campus activities, and are likely to be peers (age-wise) or even older than their instructors. Adult education constitutes those interested in teaching adult learners or who are already working with adults in an educational capacity and would like further certification and professional credentials. Studying adult education gives candidates further knowledge, training, skills, understanding and appreciation of adult education as its own unique area of practice and study. Although many of the philosophies, psychologies, and leadership traits for the adult educator are similar to those focused on the traditional learner, the history and sociology of adult learning is different. Topics particular to adult education include administration, curriculum development, learning and teaching methods and adult education as it relates to social change, current trends and global context. Those interested in focusing on adult education at whatever level find themselves as adult English as a second language (ESL) teachers, continuing education teachers and professors, or teachers of adults seeking a high-school diploma. Others provide General Educational Development (GED) preparation, literacy
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Introduction

There is no commonly accepted definition of an adult learner. The best that most educators are able to do (and still feel relatively satisfied with the attempt) is to recognize certain characteristics commonly attributed to adults. For example, adult students characteristically engage is multiple roles that affect both the amount and quality of time they devote to learning. Too, adults typically bring more life experiences to the classroom than traditional students. Experiences often provide a rich source for grounding their learning and for building a basis for new knowledge. Sometimes, these experiences interfere with learning and must be set aside, replaced with new schemata for acting on novel situations. Many adults find that formal education (especially returning to school after years spent in pursuit of career goals) serves as an especially uneasy transition point in their lives. As adults move through a series of stages such as education, insecurity and uncertainty is commonplace. Adult students frequently have established educational goals (especially when compared to their traditional counterparts). They are more likely paying for their education, focused on off-campus activities, and are likely to be peers (age-wise) or even older than their instructors.

Adult education constitutes those interested in teaching adult learners or who are already working with adults in an educational capacity and would like further certification and professional credentials. Studying adult education gives candidates further knowledge, training, skills, understanding and appreciation of adult education as its own unique area of practice and study. Although many of the philosophies, psychologies, and leadership traits for the adult educator are similar to those focused on the traditional learner, the history and sociology of adult learning is different.

Topics particular to adult education include administration, curriculum development, learning and teaching methods and adult education as it relates to social change, current trends and global context. Those interested in focusing on adult education at whatever level find themselves as adult English as a second language (ESL) teachers, continuing education teachers and professors, or teachers of adults seeking a high-school diploma. Others provide General Educational Development (GED) preparation, literacy skills, or find their vocation at jobs in adult education administration and curriculum development.

As with traditional teaching, effective adult education begins well before the teacher enters the classroom. University and college teacher preparation programs prepare their adult education candidates via a series of courses that cover a different curriculum of fundamental courses (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

A pre-service curriculum for adult education

Note that these courses comprise a typical pre-service curriculum for adult education and address the same pillars of education discussed in the previous chapter. For example, Historical and Social Issues in Adult Education speaks to two of the five pillars. Adult Learning: Theories, Principles, and Applications certainly seek out the psychology of education. While the questions may be the same, the answers we give as adult educators will necessarily be quite different.
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The Five Pillars Of Education For The Adult Learner

Recall from the previous chapter that philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, and leadership provide the overarching conditions for teaching and learning. In Chapter Ten, the discussion was centered on the traditional classroom. In this chapter, adult learners are the focus. As a reminder, the five pillars addressed the following critical questions:

  • Philosophy and the question "What are we teaching?"

  • Psychology and "How do we teach?"

  • Sociology and "Who are we teaching?"

  • History and "When (in the history of education) are we teaching?"  

  • And, Leadership and "Whom (sic) is responsible for successful learning outcomes?"  

The chapter examines how the answers to these important questions differ between the traditional and the adult learner.

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