Lesson 3 - Characteristics of Adult Learners Illinois State Library

Meeting the Adult Learner

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Importance of the First Meeting

Beginnings are important. They set the stage for what will follow. Tutors should begin by getting to know the adult learners. This knowledge will enable the tutor and learner to work together to set appropriate goals during the first few tutoring sessions. Tutors need to assist adult learners in identifying their learning styles and what accommodations, if any, are necessary. Adult learners learn better if they are actively involved in the planning of their learning.

During the first meeting, the tutor will need to establish what the adult learner already knows so that the tutor will avoid repeating known information and boring the learner. Adult learners may come to the tutoring situation without a clear idea of why any certain subject is important. If tutors help the learners understand the significance of each subject, the learners will become more willing to invest the time and energy to learn the subject matter. During the first meeting between the adult learner and the volunteer tutor, open communication should be established to promote bonding, trust, and to set mutual goals.

In addition, adult learners may come to the first tutoring session feeling anxious about their learning ability. They need to be assured of success. An effective tutor will set up a task in which the adult learner immediately experiences success. An adult learner who leaves the first session with the sense that they can be successful in the tutoring situation will return with a positive attitude. An introduction activity might be a good way to involve learners quickly. Learners could introduce themselves by telling the tutors about their interests aloud or using a writing activity.

Get off to a good start by following these suggestions. You will have accomplished important initial tasks and your relationship with the adult learner will benefit.

Motivation and Communication

To motivate learners, tutors must be flexible and willing to adapt to the needs of the learner. Although adult learners may have significant background knowledge and many life experiences, they may learn slowly. Make the information being learned memorable. Materials connected to a memorable experience are easier to learn and remember.

To motivate learners, communication is key. Tutors should explain why assignments are made, what the assignment's relevance is to materials being studied and how the assignment will relate to future lessons. Clarity is also important. Learners need to fully understand their assignments. Sometimes a tutor will need to use a variety of teaching methods that accommodate the adult learner's individual learning style. Sometimes a tutor will need to break the subject material into smaller bits of information. Sometimes a tutor will need to provide written directions for the adult learners. The tutor should watch for the opportunity to bond, build trust and create the open communication that is the key to success. In addition to flexibility, sincerity and thoughtful instruction, your enthusiasm as a tutor will motivate your learners. Don't be afraid to openly communicate your excitement about the learning process. Enthusiasm about learning is contagious.