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Western Kentucky University

Introduction - Understanding Adult Learning - FaCET

Understanding Adult Learning

Jim Berger, Special Instructional Programs


Consider a typical classroom. The chairs are arranged in rows and columns, all facing the blackboard or overhead at the front of the classroom. The instructor walks in, places his or her materials on the table next to the lectern and begins to address the classroom. Usually, the instructor tells the students what is about to be covered in the classroom, may ask the students to open their books to a particular page, and begins writing on the board.

Now, imagine that the same classroom is full of adults. Many times, when adult students enter the college classroom, they face the same instructional settings as they did when they were children. However, adults learn differently than children because they have adapted and changed as they have gained experience in the world. For the most part, adults come to our classrooms with experiences, ready to learn, self-directed, oriented toward learning, and motivated to succeed.

Just what is an adult learner? Some would argue that all college students who are over the legal age of eighteen are adults. Others, however, and for purposed of this workshop, reserve the term for students who are older than the traditional age college student (usually twenty-five and older), who have acquired greater maturity through life experiences and financial independence, and who have experience in handling the multiple and often competing commitments of work, family, community and being a college student (Knowles, 1984).

The article by Knowles elaborates on how working with adults is different than working with children (If you want a copy contact Nancy Givens). Think about some of your students and consider their characteristics as learners.


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 Last Modified 9/24/14