Choosing Reading Materials for Adult Learners

Instructor: Monica Gragg

Monica has taught college-level courses in Tourism, HR and Adult Education. She has a Master's in Education and is three years into a PhD.

This lesson provides information on how to choose reading materials for adult learners. You'll explore adult learner characteristics, adult learning theory, and how to consider these when choosing reading material.

The Adult Learner

In formal education, 38% of college students are adult learners. Informally, 44% of Americans participate in continuing education. So how do we engage the adult learner with reading materials? When you choose reading materials for adult learners, you need to consider characteristics of adult learners as well as adult learning theory. Let's start by considering the typical adult learner.

Adult learners, or non-traditional students, are typically over twenty-five years old, employed full-time, have a spouse and/or kids, and are very likely to be veterans. They will also have different expectations of you as an instructor and the course, because they are likely to be purpose-driven and will want to immediately apply what they have learned.

Adult learners will behave differently than your traditional college students. For example, adult learners will rely more on their life experiences for projects and discussions, while traditional college students will rely more on course materials. Adult learners tend to have better time-management skills because they are accustomed to juggling work, school, and family. At the same time, adult learners may not always be able to complete assignments because of their responsibilities.

You should also expect adult learners to be inexperienced or uncomfortable with technology or at least with using technology as a learning tool. For example, if your course requires students to have a Twitter account, you are likely to find that many of your adult learners are unfamiliar with Twitter or don't have an account or refuse to use it for privacy reasons.

Now that you have an idea of who your adult learners are, let's consider what we know about how adults learn.

Adult Learning Theory

You may be familiar with andragogy, a learning theory created by Malcolm Knowles. It explains how adults are self-directed and actively participate in their learning experience. Reflect on your own studies. Do you take a back seat or do you participate?

Here is a breakdown of andragogy. Adult learners want to learn. There is an intrinsic value in being able to immediately apply what they learn to their professional or personal life. Adult learners prefer experiential learning. They want to problem solve and be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction. For example, they want to know why they are studying something and how it is relatable.

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