Teaching adults

Key strategies for teaching adults

If you’re looking at a career as a teacher of adults, you won’t need telling that adults and children need to be taught in very different ways.

Teaching adults has many advantages over teaching children – there will hopefully be much less crowd control and much more actual teaching – but it also brings many challenges.

Following our articles on teaching techniques, explanation and questioning and demonstration and presentation, this article will give you a deeper understanding of the differences between adults and children in the classroom, and how to be an effective teacher of adults.

Adults know things in a way that children don’t.

As we observed in our article on teaching and learning techniques, “adults have a knowledge and an understanding of the world that is based on experience.”

Most adult learners have spent some time doing real jobs and getting to grips with real-life situations.

We also talked about Malcolm Knowles, whose 1980 theory of andradogy (the art and science of adult learning) led to his creation of four principles of adult learners.

Those principles – that adults like to be involved, use their experience in learning, learn subjects which are relevant to them, and be able to reason it through – have formed the basis for adult teaching styles ever since.

Don’t forget the different learning techniques


We’ve talked in the past about the four different learning types – Visual, Auditory, Reading and Kinaesthetic (VARK).

It would be great, and a lot simpler for teachers, if classes were split up into learner types. You wouldn’t have to go into the classroom wondering how to teach a group of people effectively when they all have different ways of learning.

The fact is, even the best teachers in the world can’t cater for all of their students all of the time. The best you can realistically aim for is for most of your students most of the time. Do that and you’ll be well on your way to a successful career in adult teaching.

But how? Let’s get into it.

Teaching technique #1: Get everyone involved


Adults and children differ in many ways, but one way in which they’re similar is that some are quiet and shy whereas others are loud and confident.

One of a teacher’s key responsibilities is to coax the quiet ones out of their shells and get them involved – whether that’s asking for their opinions during discussions or splitting them up into groups for hands-on activities.

Teaching a topic from the front and then splitting your class up into groups to do some work based on what’s been taught not only gets everyone involved, it means you’re catering for two or three different kinds of learner – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

Teaching technique #2: Tell stories


We have talked about how adults find it easier to learn when they are able to relate their learning to life. Many want to know that they are not just learning for learning’s sake.

By telling stories while you teach, you will be demonstrating how they will be able to apply the concepts or skills to their daily lives or professional situations.

Whatever subject you’re teaching – advanced electronic engineering or beginners’ French – stories also make the lessons more entertaining and enjoyable for both students and teacher.

They also give you the opportunity to smile, show some humour and reveal a little more of yourself than you might do otherwise. If you smile and have some fun, chances are your students will too – and learn more into the bargain.

Teaching technique #3: Be encouraging


In many ways, this should be number 1. As a teacher, you simply must be positive towards your students, however well or badly they’re doing.

If you’re a beacon of positivity and encouragement, and are patient with your students, then you will reap the rewards. Ask questions, but don’t expect answers immediately: they may need time to work out their answer.

With your quieter students, recognising any kind of contribution at all is vital, no matter how small – a smile and an encouraging word goes a long way.

Teaching technique #4: Show your passion


Whatever you’re teaching, being passionate about it makes a huge difference. If you’re not passionate about your subject, how can you expect your students to see it as important?

Vary the pitch of your voice, use examples, move around the room – it’s hard to be passionate while sitting behind a desk – and express yourself. Passion is contagious.

Teaching technique #5: Encourage independence


One of the biggest advantages of teaching adults is that they want to be taught – or they should do (if they don’t, then that’s not your issue) and giving them some independence over their own learning can manifest itself in several ways, such as:

– Asking them to research a topic at home rather than teaching it from the front. Visual learners could then go and learn by watching videos, reading learners could go online or find books on the subject and so on.

– Asking them for feedback on the way you’re teaching (this can draw out the different learning styles)

– Setting out your plan of what they will be learning and asking them if they’re happy or if there are areas missing

The huge advantage of giving your students a level of independence over what they learn is that they “own” their learning in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Teaching technique #6: Learn from them.


You’re not perfect. No teacher is. You will develop your own teaching techniques and find what works best for you and your students over your teaching career.

Listen to students’ feedback, try different approaches in different areas and with different classes, and assess their effectiveness at the end.

Even the best teachers, who have been teaching for 30-40 years, still change their approaches on a yearly, monthly, sometimes weekly basis. You won’t be any different.

We hope you have found this deeper dive into teaching techniques for adults useful.

If you’re looking to pursue a career in adult education, we’d love to talk to you about the Level 3 Award in Education and Training course – the only qualification you need to teach adults in the UK.

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 info@authentictraining.co.uk and we’ll get back in touch as soon as we can.

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