Methods for Teaching Adults

Updated July 20, 2017

Methods for teaching adults, especially older adults, are quite different than those for teaching children and teenagers. It's important to keep material relevant to students' goals and interests; also important are methods that facilitate independent learning skills.

Scaffolding Method

The scaffolding method provides adult learners with a structure that they can apply and adapt to different situations. The teacher gives students a task to complete, then the teacher shows the students a series of steps or structure ("scaffold") they can use to complete the task. After the students complete the task, they can use the scaffold to complete similar tasks on their own. Adult learners can also change the scaffold to complete different tasks. The scaffolding method gives adult students tools so they can learn to complete tasks independently of a teacher.

Learning by Volunteering

Engaging adult learners in real world situations through a volunteer placement is a practical adult education teaching method. According to Education Resources Information Center Digest author Sandra Kerka ,the type of learning and skills learnt depend on "the objectives of the organisation and volunteer and the content and methods involved." Volunteer managers and trainers have adult education as one of their job duties. Skill focused organisations such at literacy tutoring train in specific skills, such as lesson planning. Social cause organisations such as neighbouhood improvement groups allow adult volunteers to learn political processes. Organizations centred around problem solving, such as emergency services organisations, teach teamwork, problem solving and decision making.

Self-Directed Learning

Adults frequently have specific goals or interests when taking adult education courses. Teachers should facilitate adult students' interests and goals when developing assignments and lectures. For example, in an introductory psychology course, one adult student might be interested in working with the elderly, while another might be interested in early childhood education. Assignments should allow for each student to follow their interests, while still covering the class topics. On the first day of class, or even at registration teachers could give students a brief survey to find out what their interests are.

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About the Author

Elizabeth McCready has been a freelance writer since 2007. She has written business, tourism and IT documents. She also compiled the literature review for an Ontario-wide health study and worked in the outdoor and adventure tourism industry. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in social anthropology, with a geography minor, from the University of Calgary and a Bachelor of Science in sciences from Lakehead University.