Learner Needs Analysis: Characteristics of Adult Learners
*Adult learners have characteristics that set them apart from ‘traditional’ school or college learners. All adults come to courses with a variety and range of experiences, both in terms of their working life and educational backgrounds. This impacts on how and why they participate in learning. While each student has individual learning needs, there are some characteristics that are common to adult learners:
*Adults have accumulated life experiences. Adults come to courses with experiences and knowledge in diverse areas. They tend to favour practical learning activities that enable them to draw on their prior skills and knowledge. Adults are realistic and have insights about what is likely to work and what is not. They are readily able to relate new facts to past experiences and enjoy having their talents and knowledge explored in a teaching situation.
*Adults have established opinions, values and beliefs which have been built up over time and arrived at following experience of families, relationships, work, community, politics, etc. These views cannot be dismissed and must be respected.
*Adults are intrinsically motivated. Learners increase their effort when motivated by a need, an interest, or a desire to learn. They are also motivated by the relevance of the material to be addressed and learn better when material is related to their own needs and interests. For learners to be fully engaged in learning their attention must be fully focused on the material presented.
* Individual differences. Adults learn at various rates and in different ways according to their intellectual ability, educational level, personality and cognitive learning styles. Teaching strategies must anticipate and accommodate differing comprehension rates of learners.
*Adults learn best in a democratic, participatory and collaborative environment . Adults need to be actively involved in determining how and what they will learn, and they need active, not passive, learning experiences.
*Adult students are mature people and prefer to be treated as such. Being ‘lectured at’ causes resentment and frustration.
*Adults are goal oriented / relevancy oriented. Adults need to know why they are learning something. Adults have needs that are concrete and immediate. They can be impatient with long discussions on theory and like to see theory applied to practical problems. They are task or problem-centred rather than subject-centred. Adults tend to be more interested in theory when it is linked to practical application.
*Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They are self-reliant learners and prefer to work at their own pace. Individuals learn best when they are ready to learn and when they have identified their own learning needs. Where a student is directed by someone else to attend a course, e.g. by an employer, then that individual may not be ready to learn or may not see the value in participating on that course. This can lead to a mismatch of goals between all parties – student, employer and trainer.
*Adults are practical and problem-solvers. Adults are more impatient in the pursuit of learning objectives. They are less tolerant of work that does not have immediate and direct application to their objectives. Problem based learning exercises are welcomed as they build on prior experience and provide opportunity for practical application of materials/theories covered.
*Adults are sometimes tired when they attend classes. Many students are juggling classes with work, family, etc. They, therefore, appreciate varied teaching methods that add interest and a sense of liveliness to the class.
*Adults may have logistical considerations, including:
- -Family and caring responsibilities including childcare and/or eldercare
*Ageing concerns. Adults frequently worry about being the oldest person in a class and are concerned about the impact this may have on their ability to participate with younger students. Creating an environment where all participants feel they have a valuable contribution can work to allay such concerns.
*Adults may have insufficient confidence. Students come to class with varying levels of confidence. Some may have had poor prior experiences of education leading to feelings of inadequacy and fear of study and failure. This can manifest itself in many ways, as indicated in the next section.