The adult learners in your courses have many of the same wants and needs as the “traditional” students: your insights and perspectives on the topics you cover, a solid understanding of the material they need to master in order to succeed, and, ultimately, good grades. However, because of their stage in life, adult learners do bring some unique wants and needs to the table. But what, exactly, might those be?

In our recent Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked students twenty-five years and older: “what do you wish your instructors understood about your needs?” As we read through their responses, we noticed several recurring themes. Below, we’ve summarized them into four key points that represent the messages that they would say to their instructors if they had the opportunity.


Four things adult learners want their instructors to know

1. We’re here to succeed.
Although it’s been a long time since some of them have been in school, and that they’re dealing with that adjustment, they want you to know that they’re committed to the process today. They listed their high degree of motivation, noting their “commitment to study and succeed,” “interest and enthusiasm,” and a belief that “education is important.”

Other notable comments that indicate these learners’ motivation and desire to succeed:

  • “I want to learn as much as possible.”
  • “Even though I am an older student, this is a degree I want more than anything.”
  • “…I will do what ever it takes to succeed in school.”
  • “I want them to understand that i am doing this to better my life and my family.”
  • “I want them to understand that I really want to succeed and I will go the extra mile to succeed.”

2. We value real-world, hands-on instruction that prepares us for a career.
Many of the students we surveyed have returned in order to transition into a new career, update their career skills, or earn a degree that will help them get a raise or promotion. When they attend college, they’re hoping to gain knowledge and skills that they can bring into and apply within the workplace. They also appreciate opportunities that give them practical experience, and insights, support, and advice that can help them get to the next stage of success.

In terms of career-oriented guidance and assistance, adult learners also mentioned that they would appreciate “more hands on learning,” “internships,” and for “…instructors to demonstrate how students can succeed in the field….”

3. We’re doing our best to manage multiple commitments.
The adult learners who responded to our survey were very likely to mention the factors that have an impact on the time they have available for studying. They listed a number of priorities, including full-time jobs, children, and care for aging family members. (We’re sure you can relate to many of these priorities!)

At the same time, many adult learners are acclimating or re-adjusting to the academic environment, and are also getting themselves up to speed on the technologies discussed and used in today’s classrooms.

Taken together, these factors all amount to a busy schedule. For this reason, these students appreciate knowing the dates of assignments, projects, and tests at the beginning of the term, so that they can plan ahead and manage their time. One student stated: “The ability to work ahead is important because there are often family issues that arise which require attention first.”

Some respondents also noted that the specific day and time things are due can play a role in their success and confidence. For example, one online student noted that Friday afternoon due dates were especially challenging, because “…I use the weekend and nights to do my coursework, so that kind of schedule is hard to work around.”

Because of these commitments, they noted that the timeliness of instructors’ responses also makes a difference to them. Several mentioned that they appreciate clear, respectful, and prompt communication, as the feedback contributes to their ability to complete their assignments on time and succeed.

4. We appreciate what you’re already doing to support us!

A good number of students said their instructors understand their needs and circumstances well, and that they’re supportive of their educational journeys. Here’s a sampling of their responses:

  • “Every instructor here has made me feel welcome. No question has gone unanswered.”
  • “I have had a great experience with all my instructors and they have all been great. They are always willing to help and have help me get to where I am now.”
  • “All of the instructors I have had so far were very understanding about it being so many years since I had been in school. They were very supportive and available to answer questions.”
  • “I feel they understood my needs quite well, and engaged me in a manner that effectively addressed them.”
  • “My instructors are extremely helpful, understanding, and devoted to the class.”

Motivating, engaging, and inspiring the adult learners in your course

Interested in additional ways you can support the educational goals of the adult learners in your courses? Review our previous posts about adult learners.


How do you support adult learners in their drive to succeed in your courses? Share your thoughts in the comments.