How to play nice in adult education.


Adults are autonomous learners. They can self-direct their learning path and determine what is most important. Adult learners will assess their level of understanding and if needed will revisit material for further clarification. They want courses that are relevant and practical for them to use, in their practice, and want to know how the content will be useful to them. CE Providers should give learners control as they take a course. Let learners choose the way they view the content, and allow them to navigate through the course the way they want. Build scenarios that allow them opportunities to make decisions, and allow the opportunity to explore topics in greater detail.


In today’s fast-paced world, most adults are over-committed and pressed for time. Even if you have a strong desire to learn, you may not be able to invest as much time as you would like. With that in mind, CE Providers should present short sessions or modularized e-learning, podcast, or webcast content. That way, the education will be available when it is convenient for the learner. Avoid presenting large amounts of new information all at once; instead, break it up into a more manageable lesson plan.


A CE activity can attract a wide range of professionals with varying degrees of experience. Providers should appeal to all professions’ needs, as well as different learning styles. Learning style refers to how a person learns, categorizes, and processes new content. CE Providers should balance how the content is presented to incorporate audio, visual, and hands-on activities. Change the method and the pace frequently when covering difficult or abstract topics; give the learner the opportunity to fully grasp the content and ensure that each new piece of information logically builds on the last.


When seeking education, adults are motivated by a number of reasons. They may want career mobility, better pay, a sense of personal accomplishment, a need to learn new processes, or they may simply need to take continuing education courses as a requirement for license renewal. Adults will learn, most efficiently, when they have a reason to do so. Capture their interests by explaining the benefits right from the beginning. Explicitly tell them if it will save them time, make the job easier, or fulfill their requirements. Use examples and discussions that will prove the content connects with the learner’s personal goals.


Adults are goal oriented learners, and they need clear and concise directions on how they will master the material presented. They want to know exactly what they will need to successfully complete the course and receive credit. Clearly define the learning objectives, and precisely lay out the steps for successful completion of the course. Adult learners will appreciate an organized educational activity that clearly defines objectives that can easily be achieved.


Adults bring knowledge and experience to each learning activity, and they like to share their past experiences and insights with others. Plan activities that build on, and incorporate, the leaners’ own experience and encourage participation. Link new material with learners’ existing knowledge on the subject. Make your online education social. Allow for the learner to post comments on a discussion board or participate in a discussion forum. An online social experience creates a powerful and relevant learning experience.


Knowles, Malcolm; Holton, E.F., III; Swanson, R.A. (2005) The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th ed.) Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

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