The majority of students in an undergraduate classroom are between the ages of 18 and 24. Although these students are certainly adults, the term “adult learner” is typically applied to someone who is in their late 20s or older. Adult learners bring new opportunities to the undergraduate classroom, as younger students can learn from their more developed worldviews and life experiences. But they aren’t without their challenges, as professors must find new ways of applying the curriculum in meaningful ways. If you pursue a career in higher education, you may one day find yourself facing these challenges.
When it’s been years since an adult learner was in high school, it’s only natural that he or she would feel out of place in the classroom. Know that many adult learners are highly self-conscious about their rusty classroom etiquette. Start each semester with a quick rundown of your classroom expectations. Be more specific than you think you need to, such as by specifically stating whether you expect each student to raise a hand before speaking or if you welcome spontaneous group discussions.
It’s to be expected that an adult learner who is new to undergraduate classes would be out of practice with basic homework skills, like researching for a paper or citing sources. Take a proactive approach to prevent adult learners from falling behind. Point out campus resources, such as tutors, a writing center or a librarian who is keenly familiar with your curriculum. Address the entire class when you discuss these resources so as not to make adult learners feel singled out.
Your coursework may require specific tech skills that the majority of college-age students would already have. It’s best not to assume that adult learners have these technological skills. Point your students in the direction of clearly written, step-by-step tutorials. Let your students know that you’re available to walk them through any required computer programs during your office hours.
With the exception of lecture hall-style courses that pack several hundred students into one class, a typical undergrad classroom can develop its own unique subculture. Strive to create an inclusive, supportive subculture in your classroom in order to minimize that “outsider” feeling that adult learners can sometimes develop. One way to do this is to meet each student privately and get to know him or her. Look for ways of tying each student’s life experiences to the course material. For example, let’s say you’re a history professor teaching ancient Middle Eastern cultures and one of your adult learners is a military veteran who was deployed in Iraq. You could ask that student to talk to the class about his or her first-hand experiences with that culture.
The professors at Grand Canyon University understand the unique challenges involved with teaching adult learners at the undergraduate level. We’ve designed a degree program intended to overcome those challenges. Use the Request More Information button to find out about our Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning degree program.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.