17 Oct Five tips for teaching adults
What are the best tips for teaching adults?
Before we get started on tips for teaching adults, let’s look at what we mean by adults and whether there is a huge difference between teaching adults and teaching children.
Adult learners have, for the most part, made their own choice to be in the learning environment they are in, so they are likely to be less disruptive and more eager to learn.
That’s good news for you as their teacher, and is just one reason why teaching adults is a good job, but if you can keep them captivated and lead them to success then that’s even better for everyone.
For you, for them, and for your chances of long-term success in the adult education field. In adult education, just like in children’s education, teachers will more often than not be judged by their results.
What do we mean by “teaching adults”? Is a 20-year-old an adult?
As anybody with a child who’s just left their teenage years behind will happily tell you, 20-year-olds are determined that they are adults.
But the reality is that, when it comes to education, you’re not really an adult unless you’re 25 or above.
Adult learners, often called mature students, are a mixed bunch. Some have taken a few years out after finishing school. Some have been out of education for decades and now want to make up for lost time. Others are studying for a particular qualification which will help them get a much-needed promotion at work. Some just fancy learning something new!
No two adult learners are the same, but there still are some hints and tips for teaching adults which will help you get through to the majority of them.
Tip for teaching adults #1: They’re not children. But in some ways they are.
Do you remember being at school? Do you remember the worst teachers you had?
Chances are they were the boring ones which droned on and on, didn’t get the class involved, or, worse, just told you to open your books at page 137, read it and answer the questions.
Children don’t like that kind of teacher because they can get bored easily and will decide that throwing missiles around the classroom is much more fun.
Here’s the thing: Adults get bored easily too. And they absolutely will not want to sit still while the teacher goes on and on without giving them a chance to get involved. And they will often vote with their feet, especially when they are more often than not paying for the privilege of being there.
So tip number 1 for teaching adults is keep them involved.
- Ask them questions: “What do you think?” “Does that make sense?”
- Split them into discussion groups
- Encourage them to ask you questions; if they’re not keen, ask specific individuals to explain something you’ve talked about.
Tip for teaching adults #2: They’re not learning for the fun of it.
In some instances this won’t be the case. Some adult learners do genuinely just have a love of learning, or time on their hands, or both.
In the main, though, adult learners will be back at college to learn a particular skill for a particular reason.
The one thing that they will almost certainly all have in common is that they will have lived in the real world, with the pressures, challenges and experiences that brings.
This actually should make adult learners easier to teach – there’s none of the “what use is Pythagorus’ Theorem in the real world?” questioning you can expect from teaching children – so use it to your advantage.
Apply your theories and lessons to real-life situations, showing them how they will be able to use what they’re learning when they leave the classroom and head back into or start work.
So tip number 2 for teaching adults is keep it relevant to real life.
- Think of a real-life application for each of your main points ahead of each class
- If possible, think of anecdotes of when points have come in useful.
- Involve them –Why are they are learning this? What do they plan to do with it?
Tip for teaching adults #3: Remember that everyone is different.
Back in 1992, two Kiwi academics called Neil D. Fleming and Colleen Mills published their findings on learning styles, which became known as the VARK findings.
VARK stands for visual, auditory, and reading/writing and kinaesthetic. Fleming and Miller found that most people are a combination of those styles but often have a preferred style of learning.
What that means for you as a teacher of adults is that all your students will learn differently.
Some will learn best from looking at presentations (Visual learners), some will learn best by listening to you (Auditory learners), some will learn best by reading hand-outs (Reading learners) and some will learn best by being given demonstrations, simulations and applications of what they’re learning (Kinaesthetic learners).
How do you deal with this? Here’s how.
Tip number 3 for teaching adults is vary your styles of teaching.
- Use presentations BUT also give hand-outs
- Don’t panic if some students don’t appear to be paying much attention; chances are they’re not auditory learners
- Ask! Most people know which kind of learner they are.
Tip for teaching adults #4: It’s not them, it’s you.
You’re the teacher. Yes, they’re mostly likely paying to be there, but you still need to keep their attention.
Nobody wants to be taught by a dull, monotone, unsmiling teacher (see Tip #1) so don’t be that teacher.
Instead, be the teacher who’s always smiling, always full of beans, always involving every member of the class. The teacher whose class everybody in the room is recommending to their friends. Think Harrison Ford as Dr Indiana Jones and you’re halfway there.
So tip number 4 for teaching adults is smile.
How? Read this article. Yes, it’s actually an article on “how to smile”. Not got time to read that? Here’s three tips from it:
- Think about something funny.
- Say “money”. Honestly. It’s apparently an old trick used by film stars.
- Practise as you start the day by smiling in the mirror and tell yourself “I’m going to smile more today”.
Tip for teaching adults #5: No time-wasters, please.
There are two types of people in this world: Those who are generally on time and those who aren’t.
When it comes to teaching, you need to be the first type. Be ready to teach when the lesson is due to start (not a minute later) and don’t waste the students’ time when you are teaching.
There will always be those who are late; but nothing annoys people who make an effort to be on time more than being forced to wait for those who don’t.
Don’t make exceptions. Don’t think, “well, Adam has to take three buses to get here, let’s just give him five more minutes” because the chances are that someone else in the room also has to take three buses to get here but you don’t know that. Why? Because they are always on time.
So tip number 5 for teaching adults is be on time and don’t waste time.
- Be tough. The lesson starts when it is due to and ends when it is due to.
- Make sure your lesson plans include times – and stick to them
- Share your timings with the students at the start so that they’re aware too.
Looking for more tips on teaching adults?
Let us know and watch this space. We blog regularly and chances are that future blogs will cover further tips on teaching adults.
Not an adult teacher yet? Fancy giving it a go?
Here at Authentic Training, we offer several different ways of taking and passing the Level 3 Award in Education and Training – the simplest way to qualify as a teacher of adults in the UK.
Our online course gives you the opportunity to dip into pre-arranged classes via Zoom if you want to, but also, crucially, offers full tutor support over the phone or by email.
If you’re looking for an in-person class and would like to be qualified in super-fast time – as little as two weeks with suitable pre-course preparation – then you might be more interested in our five-day course.
You’ll come into our Liverpool centre for three days of intensive instruction, then do your coursework over the rest of the week.
If you’ve got more questions, we’re here to help.
We’d love to talk to you about the Level 3 Award in Education and Training.
To give us a call and speak to one of our expert trainers, ring 0151 546 5151 and ask for John or Kris.
Alternatively, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back in touch as soon as we can.