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University of Wyoming

This session will begin our discussion of the theories, concepts and models that pertain specifically to adults and adult education as a discipline.

prepared by

Diana Enzi and Pam Sinclair

Characteristics of adult learners

Here are seven characteristics of adult learners that describe what will help them to learn. You can probably think of some more, but also consider what are the implications of these characteristics for your teaching and training.

1. Adult students are mature people and prefer to be treated as such. They learn best in a democratic, participatory, and collaborative environments. They need to be actively involved in determining how and what they will learn, and they need active rather than passive learning experiences. They are self-reliant learners and prefer to work at their own pace.

2. Adults have needs which are concrete and immediate. They tend to be impatient with long discourses on theory and like to see theory applied to practical problems. They are task or problem-centered rather than subject-centered. This doesn't mean they are not interested in theory; they must also see the practical application of the theory. Their learning is not complete until it is expressed in appropriate action.

3. Adults are more impatient in the pursuit of learning objectives. They are less tolerant of 'busy work' that does not have immediate and direct application to their objectives. If it is not relevant to their needs then they aren't very interested.

4. Adults have useful past experience. They are more realistic and have insights about what is likely to work and what is not. They are more readily able to relate new facts to past experience.

5. Adults enjoy having their talents and information made use of in a teaching situation. They bring their own experiences and knowledge into the classroom, which they like to use as a resource for learning-give them practical learning activities to build on and use their prior skills and knowledge.

6. Adults are intrinsically motivated. They are motivated by internal incentives and curiosity, rather than external rewards. They are also motivated by the usefulness of the material to be learned and learn better when material is related to their own needs and interests.

7. Adults are sometimes fatigued when they attend classes. They therefore, appreciate any teaching devices that add interest and sense of liveliness, variety of method, audiovisual aids, change of pace and sense of humor-anything that will make the learning process easier.