Instructional design/Adult learning/Characteristics of Adult Learners

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Instructional Design: Homepage Choosing Methods for Adult Learners Adult Learner Characteristics Instructional Methods Choosing Methods Wrap up and Extension Resources


Characteristics of Adult Learners[edit]

Adult Learning Theory is rooted in the idea that adults learn differently than children. Adults are independent and self-directed, they have a wealth of life experiences to draw on, and are motivated to learn when they can see the connection to how their life is affected by the instruction. The following chart identifies five characteristics of adult learners and an example of what each one means when it comes to designing instruction. Use this chart as a guide when creating instruction for adult learners.

Characteristic Definition Example
Self-concept Independent and self-directed Adult learners want to make their own decisions about how and when they learn; learning is voluntary. They want the freedom to choose when to start and when to stop, and what direction to go with exploring materials. Adults want to make their own decisions, not be told what to do.
Experience Library of life experiences to draw on as a resource Adults know things, they may know more than the instructor in certain areas. Adults want this to be acknowledged, respected, and tapped into.
Readiness to learn Knowledge or skill needed for a job or role Adults take responsibility for their learning if it is relevant, necessary, and appropriate. Adults are looking for learning that will help them get where they want to be in life.
Orientation to learn Expect to immediately apply new knowledge Adults are problem solvers; they want to see how the information is directly connected to how they can use it. Adults are critical thinkers; they want to see how something works and try it rather than accepting it because the instructor says so.
Motivation to learn Motivated by internal rather than external factors Adults have their own goals and reasons for learning, they are not likely to be motivated by prompts from the instructor. Adults seek education for their own reasons whether personal interest or a work related goal. Adults have their own values, beliefs, and opinions that influence their motivation if not respected.

Taking Adult Learner Characteristics into Account[edit]

The following are two scenarios. In the first scenario the presenter does not take adult learner characteristics into account. In the second scenario the presenter has taken into acount adult learner characteristics. Compare the outcomes of each scenario.

The case of Jimmy[edit]

Jimmy works in the Human Resources area of his company. He has been asked to give a one hour presentation to new employees about how to complete payroll and travel documents. Jimmy puts together a powerpoint presentation which he lectures through for 45 minutes. Jimmy asks the participants to hold their questions until the end of the presentation. At first the group seems attentive, but then Jimmy notices that some of participants begin to zone out and are reading the documents instead of listening. For the last 15 minutes of the presentation Jimmy hands out the payroll and travel documents and asks participants to complete them. Jimmy intends to circulate the room while the documents are completed, but there are so many questions after the presentation that the forms do not get completed. The participants seem agitated and comment that they don’t feel prepared to complete the forms, nor do they feel all of their questions were answered.

The case of Steve[edit]

Steve works in the Human Resources area of his company. He has been asked to give a one hour presentation to new employees about how to complete payroll and travel documents. Steve knows that getting paid is important to people so he is sure they will be ready to learn. Steve understands that adult learners are oriented to learning such that they want to apply their new knowledge immediately. Steve decides to have participants complete the payroll and travel documents as he is presenting the information rather than having everyone wait until the end of his presentation. Steve also knows that adult learners have an independent and self-directed self-concept so he decides to let the participants choose the order in which they would like to go through the documents. Steve presents the information in small chunks and allows participants to ask questions after each chunk so that if he needs to switch directions he can be flexible and allow the participants to explore the materials. At the end of the session everyone has successfully completed their payroll and travel documents.


Self Quiz[edit]

Read the examples below and identify which adult learner characteristic it describes. If you score less than four out of five, review the information above and retake the quiz.

1

Charles is looking for a course in leadership development because he knows that a supervisory position will be opening up in his area and he wants to show he is capable of the job. What adult learner characteristic prompts Charles to attend this training?

Motivation to learn
Orientation to learn
Self concept
Readiness to learn

2

Robert’s company is switching to a new piece of software for tracking inventory. Robert is very adept with technology having designed several websites on the side for small businesses. In the training for the new software Robert breezes through the materials and tries to answer questions and help the participants seated near him. The instructor comes over and asks Robert to stop, stating that they need to run the training without his help. Robert gives the instructors poor reviews. What adult learner characteristic has the instructor not taken into account?

Experience
Motivation to learn
Self concept
Orientation to learn

3

Jackie signed up for a community education class in Cooking Basics. From the course description it looked like participants would have opportunities to put together meals that fit their lifestyle. After the first session Jackie was frustrated that the instructor had chosen the meals everyone would prepare and did not allow her to have any input. Jackie decides to stop attending. What adult learner characteristic has the instructor not taken into account?

Readiness to learn
Self concept
Motivation to learn
Experience

4

Angela is taking a course on creating bird houses. After reviewing safety information the instructor immediately has participants pick up their tools and start construction. Angela is excited that they get to actually construct a bird house and not just learn about them. What adult learner characteristic has the instructor tapped into?

Experience
Motivation to learn
Self concept
Orientation to learn

5

Maureen started a new job at a domestic violence shelter and is attending training on the basics of the cycle of domestic violence. During the training participants are given many opportunities to discuss case scenarios and how they would approach them with a client. Maureen has a chance to express her views and feels supported and validated by the instructor and other participants. What adult learner characteristic has the instructor taken into account?

Readiness to learn
Self concept
Motivation to learn
Experience



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Instructional Design: Homepage Choosing Methods for Adult Learners Adult Learner Characteristics Instructional Methods Choosing Methods Wrap up and Extension Resources