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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Strategies for Designing Courses for Adult Learners

The rewards and challenges of teaching adult learners are similar to those of teaching traditional students; however, the adult learners' needs in an online environment may vary slightly due to age, life experiences, and technology skill set. Effective instructors initiate and maintain a positive student-teacher relationship and seek ways to present course content that is meaningful to all learners. In the words of Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, "Good teaching is teaching." Adult learners may need a little more consideration, especially in the online learning environment, in order to be academically successful and to achieve their academic goals.
  • Present information in chunks instead of one entire piece. Chunking reduces cognitive load and allows the learner to process the information more efficiently.
  • Make sure students can move through the material at their own pace. Remember, adult learners like to feel that they are controlling the education process.
  • Students need access to past materials so they can review on a regular basis. Therefore, don’t limit access to prior week’s modules and materials.
  • Students may not always see the "big picture," so help them understand how each chunk will help them progress toward their overall goal.
  • Provide timely feedback. Let the adult learner know what is being done correctly, as well as what needs improving. Grade assignments in a timely manner so the adult student receives feedback before the next assignment is due. This will give them an opportunity to make any needed corrections or ask questions.
  • State each assignment's purpose and its relevance to the course. If you can relate an assignment to a job the student may have when she graduates, even better!
  • Give the learners options and flexibility in assignments.
  • Keep the course requirements in perspective. Remember, adult learners have commitments outside your course. Make sure each activity is used to judge fulfillment of a course objective.
  • Make sure the adult student has the necessary technical skills to succeed in the course. Include detailed instructions related to any technology-related tasks. These same instructions can be used in other classes, as well.
  • Bend the rules when necessary. Empathize with the adult learner.
  • Make sure you demonstrate clarity and articulate well with adult learners. They have high expectations, and you will lose credibility if you communicate with slang.
  • Remember, adult learners sometimes have physical limitations. Use easy to read fonts and a clear organizational structure. Sans serif fonts such as Ariel and Tahoma are easier to read on the computer. Serif fonts such as Times Roman are easier to read in printed materials.
  • Use a variety of strategies to present concepts, such as graphic organizers. For more information on graphic organizers visit this Web site: Write Design Online
  • When possible, present the material in different formats to accommodate different learning styles. These modes can include text, graphics, audio, and/or video.
Additional Resources:
The Ultimate Educator: Achieving Maximum Adult Learning Through Training and Instruction
Adult Learners
Characteristics of Adult Learners
Building A Bridge: Supporting Online Adult Learners (YouTube video)
Spotlight on Malcolm Knowles (Youtube video)

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