Truth is: many adults aren’t naturally well equipped to be effective learners.
It’s easy as an educator to assume lectures are the best format for transferring knowledge to adults, or to tell yourself that, as long as your students score well on a test, that they’ve learned and mastered the material.
While most adults today are accustomed to traditional schooling in their growing years – from rote learning to lecturer-based instruction – emerging research reveals traditional learning methods are starkly ineffective in helping adults retain new knowledge and skills.
Adults are also unique from children in their cognitive and social characteristics. Science has shown the adult brain takes in knowledge differently from young children. Adults also wrestle with competing life roles and have limited time for learning. An adult’s typical attention span is estimated to be around 15 to 20 minutes due to the limitations of our working memories and interference from our environment.
Couple that with the phenomena that courses such as Learning How to Learn have resonated with millions of adult learners around the world looking to upskill and stay relevant in a fast-changing economy, helping adult learns become better learners is one of the foremost tasks for educators today.
The Art and Science of Helping Adults Learn
What does this mean for you when it comes to the nuts and bolts of designing a learning experience for adults?
One of your biggest questions that most educators face: how do you ensure learning amongst adults actually takes place?
To increase your success with adult learners, educators need to focus on not just delivering content, but also consider the factors that will increase your adult learners’ effectiveness. Be it creating courses in a classroom, workshop or through an online platform, helping adults become better learners is both an art and a science.
To help you along, here are five critical questions you can reflect on when designing a course or a learning experience for adult learners:
Do I understand the challenges adult learners face?
The first step to empowering your adult learners’ is to simply understand their needs better. By taking the time to discover their unique challenges, you’ll be better informed to design a course format that’s impactful and relevant. Where possible, spend time talking and interviewing your learners; make notes of common challenges and constantly iterate the delivery of your teaching based on the feedback you receive.
Does my course engage adult learners?
Course material that doesn’t engage your learners is unlikely to be retained, absorbed or simply glossed over. One way to increase engagement is to create an “enriched environment”. Instead of a static lecture, educators can offer students multiple stimuli – from video, audio to learning resources – to provide students different ways of understanding and interacting with the content taught.
Does my course motivate adult learners?
One of the surest ways to motivate adult learners is to show them the tangible benefits and impact of what they are learning. In designing a learning experience, you can offer opportunities for learners to promptly try out new concepts or processes, be it through a discussion group, specific exercises or assignments. Create ways for them to take action, as action leads to application, making connections, reflection and solidification of knowledge.
Do I provide value to my adult learners?
With the proliferation of content outpacing the time adults have to learn, more and more educators are turning to curation as part of their teaching toolbox.
The aim of curation is to find, filter, organise and contextualise resources in a way that makes learning more interesting and accessible – while connecting ideas taught in class to external trends. That’s why educators that constantly share the best and most relevant content with their learners can provide tremendous value while also helping their adult learners save valuable time.
Can I help adult learners learn from each other?
In truth many adults enjoy learning from each other’s experiences and perspectives. As an educator, you can consider infusing elements of ‘social learning’ in your classroom, where your students can learn through interaction with their peers.
One commonly adopted format for social learning is the flipped classroom. Here, structured course material is delivered through an online platform; this allows for face-to-face class time to become an interactive session involving discussions and hands-on activities. Other methods you can explore to boost social learning include peer coaching, role-playing and gamification.