Three Keys to Engage Adult Learners


For learning to happen, it takes an “active” learner — not necessarily a “live” teacher.
Bring the whole self into the classroom.

  • Tell them the purpose. Adult learners are motivated by the real world benefits of what they are doing. It is a good idea to periodically remind why they are doing what they are doing.
  • Ask them to write. Give your students a few minutes to write on a related topic. You can give related question to answer, or just ask them to summarize  their thoughts on previously distributed learning materials. Or it could be about the main points from the last class. Writing process stimulates their brains and helps them transition from the outside world to the classroom. These few minutes may kickstart their writing regimen, the activity has a symbolic value and a focusing function.
  • What other ideas do you have for achieving student’s full attention (not just the habeas corpus)?



Tap into students’ experiences

Do not assume “knowledge exists “out there.” Knowledge exists in each person’s mind and is shaped by individual experience. Learning happens only when students are able to make connections.

  • Pique on the treasure trove. The beauty of working with adults is that they have experiences and stories about various topics. Allowing one (or two NOT three or four!) of your students to tell their storie(s) makes learning real for the whole group. Caution: Make sure one person doesn’t steal the whole class into an irrelevant side conversation. Use your polished facilitation skills to keep the focus on topic.
  • Don’t “teach” give immediate “feedback.” Bring student experience into action by engaging the in problem based learning. Challenging learners do things on their own or in their groups reveals you where they are in terms of mastery of their skills. Such action opportunities invaluable opportunity to see exactly what they need. Those “teaching moments” are invaluable as they create a learning opportunity. While giving feedback, remember to be respectful. Students must feel that you are there to develop every student’s competencies and talents, not just to judge their performances and grade them.
  • Tell us your experience of successfully having done this in one of your classes.



Use the existing  culture, narratives, and controversies

Do not make your classroom an endeavor of transfer knowledge from faculty to students. You are the designer of environment to elicit student discovery and construction of knowledge.

  • Enter controversy. Let them take stand but as a facilitator, you should not take a side. Debates not only make classroom conversations interesting, but also enhance presentations skills and help students grow cognitive, rhetorical eloquence. Most magical aspect of debate is that students take ownership their learning because they have to “defend” their arguments. Among the many other benefits of debates are improvements in self-esteem, rigorous higher order and critical thinking skills, the ability to structure and organize thoughts, analytical, research and note-taking skills, and encouraging teamwork.
  • Fire up emotions. Absorption and retention is high for emotionally charged content. Use images, graphics, and written content that are relevant, and evoke certain feeling.
  • What else can you use? Sex, religion, and politics are some interesting topics that adults take interest in
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