Motivating Adult Learners

Adults enroll in courses for many reasons, including upgrading their skills, helping them change careers, learning for interest, or perhaps because their manager told them to take the course.

In any given class, there is a mix of learners with the above motivations to learn. It can sometimes be a challenge to keep learners motivated and engaged.  This is true whether it’s a 12-week college course or a three-day corporate training course.

Here are a few tips to keep learners engaged that will help not only their retention of material, but also their enjoyment of topic:

Adults learn best by doing.  In the age of computers gaming, Wii, and instant information on the Internet, adults are conditions not to sit for too long. Let’s face it, boredom can set in quickly even if a lecture interesting.  Even the most animated lecturers need to engage learners by getting them to practice newly acquired information.

To engage learners, it’s important to the instructor to design group and individual activities that reinforces new information.  Even in a three hour college class, there is plenty of opportunity to have a few group activities and presentations.

Creating quick presentations by learner groups helps all learners in the class learn from their peers and helps you, as the teacher/trainer, to fill in learning gaps. Presentations also help you find out how well learners translate knowledge into a practical mini-project.

Change teaching strategies every 15 minutes.  Similar to the first point, adults get bored quickly.  Show a YouTube clip, then lecture for 15 minutes, then do an activity, then show real-world applications of the theory, then lecture for 15 minutes, then … You get the idea.

Changing the learning techniques keep students engaged and helps them fights the boredom.  Remember, though, that you can’t please everyone, and some students will not like some of the strategies you use.  I’m not a big proponent of learning styles because I believe we use all the styles most of the time.  It’s best to change teaching techniques often in the class so students get a better understanding of the information.  Scaffolding, or building blocks of information on tops of each other also helps students realize how seemingly non-relevant information is linked together.

Test often.  In one college course I taught, I gave a quiz at the end of every class.   The quiz was about 15 questions long and contained fill in the blanks and multiple-choice questions.

After collecting the quiz I’d go over the answers in class. Reviewing the answers was an excellent learning opportunity for the students, and it often stimulated interesting discussions about the topic.

To help take the pressure off of the students, I would occasionally “throw out” a question if the vast majority of students didn’t answer it correctly.  Finally, I would include only a student’s best nine of the 12 quizzes.  This gave students latitude to have a bad day or not penalize them if they missed a class.

Because the quizzes were worth only 10 per cent of the learners’ final grades each question wasn’t highly valuable.  I used the quizzes to ensure learners understood the material and also to discover what areas students needed improvement.

Know your learners.  In the first day of class I make it a point to find our what motivates the students to be in the class.  I want to know whom I’m teaching to.  Why are the students here?  What do they want to accomplish by taking this course?  I also take into account the demographics of the students.

While the learning objectives will stay the same, adjustments to the lesson plans must be made based on whom the students are.

In one college course I taught, there was only male student in a class of about 25.  In that particular course, I liked to show corporate websites as examples of the topic I was teaching.  Obviously, in this particular class the examples were sites that women would most likely visit.  However, I would also make sure not to exclude the interests of the lone male student.

In summary, start you first day of class by finding out why students are taking the course.  Create lesson plans that includes a variety of learning strategies, and finally test your learners to help them learn and you become a better adult educator.

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