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Successful Approaches to Adult Education

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Adult education is an appealing sect of education: adults are usually aware and responsible, and the teacher-student relationship is more horizontal. However, individuals who teach adults must have the tools to address the associated challenges. Keeping adult students engaged can also be difficult because most adult pupils have full- or part-time jobs or family obligations.

An advanced education degree in adult education can provide professionals with the knowledge required to teach older students. Whether instruction is online or in person, here are some highlights of successful approaches to adult education:

Understand Andragogy

“Pedagogy” is the word mostly used to describe the educational techniques a professor utilizes in the classroom. “Andragogy,” on the other hand, is a term popularized by Malcolm Knowles, meaning the development of learning models specifically designed for more mature learners. According to the Association of College & Research Libraries, “Pedagogy is considered a content model, whereas andragogy is a process model. A content model focuses on presenting information to students. In contrast, the process model strives to provide the skills and resources to acquire information. As a result, pedagogy focuses on conveying content. Andragogy encourages the teacher as facilitator, where the emphasis is on enabling the student to learn.”

In Deb Peterson’s article for ThoughtCo, she nods to Knowles’ expertise further. In order for andragogy to be successful, the following must hold true:

  • The learning is self-directed
  • The learning is experiential and utilizes background knowledge
  • The learning applies to current roles
  • The instruction is problem-centered
  • The students are motivated to learn

Professionals can more easily envision ways to fulfill this role as the educator-facilitator with these elements in mind.

Self-Directed Study Is Your Friend

One of the joys of teaching adults is that they require less management and direction, which allows educators to convey subject matter more deeply. Deb Peterson notes that adult learners are mature enough to understand their own academic strengths and weaknesses and how they learn best: “They don’t require much help acquiring resources or developing goals for learning because, in most cases, they have done this before and already have reasons for being in school again.” Therefore, the teacher-student symbiosis can develop through a mixture of individualized mentorship and sharing of experiences.

Using online learning tools can be particularly beneficial since students can engage with the material they know works for them. For example, as a teacher, you can use applications and other virtual materials to offer visual or auditory supplements. You can also help the student craft a lesson plan and empower them to create a study schedule tailored to their specific needs and preferences (like having childcare duties or feeling more focused in the evenings).

Relevance to Students’ Lives

An adult learner will be more motivated if the topics and methods of instruction have relevance and application to their day-to-day lives. However, it may be difficult to select specific topics for a homogenous class, which is why educators should focus on self-directed learning. But even with broader topics, it’s best to stick to lessons that refer to contemporary life. Students will quickly lose interest if they sense that something doesn’t serve a personal purpose.

Another approach to this is through more practice and less theory. Helen Colman from the eLearning Blog collected a series of tips and case studies on andragogy, specifically project-based and action learning. This perspective will provide students with communication tactics, problem-solving thinking and other lifelong skills that they can apply to their careers, relationships and other future educational endeavors.

Learn more about Southern Oregon University’s Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Adult Education online program.

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