VIA Faculty Focus: Understanding Adult Learners’ Needs

Though the study that inspired this blog post came from a recent university study in Singapore, it is interesting precisely because it reinforces existing findings from Higher Ed research running from Gamson and Chickering’s famous “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” article (1987) all the way into the present.

In other words, there are no surprises here, but the article does reassure us that adult learners really do value, and need, our efforts to engage and retain them in the classroom through good practice. Here are a sampling of the results from 2700+ adult students’ responses  to a survey. For example:

Engaging Students in Active Learning
A commonly held assumption is that students like to take the easiest routes/short-cuts and prefer to be passive learners. Despite the fact that adult learners are busy individuals, the student feedback suggested that they do want to be engaged in active learning. They wanted their lessons to be interesting, practical and applicable.

Here are some of their suggestions for facilitating engaging lessons:

  • use meaningful and purposeful learning activities
  • ask stimulating questions
  • use appropriate and relevant multimedia tools/technology to engage students
  • incorporate real-life and application-based examples
  • interact with students and effectively manage group discussions

There are also suggestions about posting course readings and lecture notes in advance, and keeping these available throughout the semester.  Asynchronous self-study and review seems particularly important for adult, working students, as are presentation, time-management, and discussion-leading skills.  Well worth checking out, whatever the age of the groups you end up teaching.

DM