What Do You Do with Adult Students? Some Suggestions on How to Prepare for and Enhance Your Older Students' Class Experience

15 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2004

See all articles by Samuel B. Hardy

Samuel B. Hardy

Augusta State University - Department of Clinical & Professional Studies


Today's faculty may find themselves in a classroom, especially evening classes, made up of a large percentage of persons older than themselves. It may be the case more often than not for new faculty who are assigned the evening shift. If we find ourselves in this type classroom setting, it is important that we understand that our older students have different expectations than those day students who are often decades younger, and, that our instructional methods should differ for these adult students. These mature students bring themselves to the learning environment through their own volition; they have a need to be there, and they each have a reservoir of life experiences that sometimes span the very time period of the topic discussed in class. We should understand the characteristics of the adult learner to better serve this client group.

Pedagogy is the art or profession of teaching. When we think of the word we associate it with the art of teaching children. Students of the teaching science are taught about stimulus, response, reinforcement and motivation. That children need to be engaged, that a child goes through certain developmental stages in growing up and that instruction should suit each stage of development. But what about the adult learner? Do we associate the adult learner with the child, and simply apply pedagogical instructional techniques to adult classes? Malcolm Knowles in his book The Modern Practice of Adult Education from Pedagogy to Andragogy differentiated the art of teaching adults from that of teaching children and used the term andragogy to describe the art or profession of helping adults learn. Dr. Knowles compares the assumptions of pedagogy and andragogy as follows: 1) The role of the child is that of a dependent learner; the adult, due to the maturation process, is a self-directed learner. Adults have a need to take charge of their learning and we as teachers should nurture this natural tendency. 2) Children have no experiences of worth that they can bring to the learning setting; adults, as they grow and mature, amass a wealth of experiences that can be a rich resource for learning. 3) Children are brought, or made to go, to school when society deems it time; adults come to learn when they are compelled by the need to cope with a life change or to satisfy some other real-life circumstance. And, 4) younger learners see learning as a matter of accumulating subject matter content that will be used when they are older; adults view learning as a means to improve their competency level, and they want to apply whatever new knowledge immediately. To summarize, Dr. Knowles' four assumptions about andragogy are that mature learners are self-directed, experiential learners, ready learners, and want immediacy of application of the new knowledge. Knowing these characteristics of our older students as learners, how can we accommodate them and add value to their lives when it comes to economics instruction? A hallmark of an educated person is the capacity to reflect on and learn from experience such that the learning yields meaningful interpretations of life occurrences and informs future action. Catherine Marienau, 1999

The above thought is apropos because understanding ourselves and our fellow adults as students sets the tenor for the learning experience. This paper will cover what I call the Knows about the adult learning setting. After preparing for the work, I have to admit upon personal reflection, that my steps do appear as generally applicable to any learning setting; however, I will show the specific merit of each when the student is an adult. First and foremost is to Know Yourself.

JEL Classification: A29

Suggested Citation

Hardy, Samuel B., What Do You Do with Adult Students? Some Suggestions on How to Prepare for and Enhance Your Older Students' Class Experience. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=568503 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.568503

Samuel B. Hardy (Contact Author)

Augusta State University - Department of Clinical & Professional Studies ( email )

2500 Walton Way
Augusta, GA 30904
United States
706-667-4506 (Phone)

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