Working with adults, no problem!

So you have to work with an adult learner, and you have some concerns.  Below is a comparison of the learning characteristics of adult learners and youth learners adapted from Rochester Institute of Technology. Of course, these are generalizations with exceptions occurring in each group of learners, but you may want to keep these differences in mind as you consider the learner population you will be working with.

Adult Learners Youth Learners

Problem-centered; seek educational solutions to where they are compared to where they want to be in life

Subject-oriented; seek to successfully complete each learning task, regardless of how the task relates to their own goals

Results-oriented; have specific results in mind for education – will drop out if education does not lead to those results because their participation is usually voluntary

Future-oriented; youth education is often a mandatory or an expected activity in a youth’s life and designed for the youth’s future

Self-directed; typically not dependent on others for direction

Often depend on adults for direction

Often skeptical about new information; prefer to try it out before accepting it

Likely to accept new information without trying it out or seriously questioning it

Seek education that relates or applies directly to their perceived needs, that is timely and appropriate for their current lives

Seek education that prepares them for an often unclear future; accept postponed application of what is being learned

Accept responsibility for their own learning if learning is perceived as timely and appropriate

Depend on others to design their learning; reluctant to accept responsibility for their own learning

In summary, adult learners usually approach learning differently than younger learners:

  • They are more self-guided in their learning.
  • They bring more, and expect to bring more, to a learning situation because of their wider experience – and can take more away.
  • They require learning “to make sense” – they will not perform a learning activity just because you said to do it.

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