Look around your campus, or consider the roster of your online courses, and you’ll likely notice that many of the students fall outside of the “traditional” college age range of the late teens to early twenties.
You might surmise that their reasons for attending college differ, at least in some senses, from those of the students who transition to college immediately after high school graduation. Some adult learners are making their first foray into higher education or are aiming to complete a degree that they began earlier in life. A good number are seeking an advanced degree. Many return to college to earn a certification, learn skills that will advance their careers, or build the skills that will facilitate their transition into new careers. Still others attend courses as a means of enriching their lives and expanding their experiences and horizons. (And some may be attending college for a combination of these varying reasons!)
Whatever their reasons for attending college, these students are hoping to make the most of their investment of time, money, and effort. As an instructor, you undoubtedly want to ensure that the course is focused, engaging, and relevant to their goals. And most assuredly, you want to create an atmosphere of inclusion, where all students know that their ideas, experiences, and time are an integral part of the classroom experience.
In the Instructor’s Manual for her text, The Adult Learner’s Companion: A Guide for the Adult College Student, Second Edition, Deborah Davis shares a number of strategies for integrating adult learners into your classroom and ensuring that they feel welcome, engaged, and valued:
- In group projects, assign equal numbers of adult and younger students. Balancing the group with older and younger students will encourage all students to work collaboratively and learn from one another, the most significant skill in today’s workplace.
- Partner projects should include an adult learner and a younger student. Again, by partnering, the adult learner can learn from the the younger student and vice-versa.
- Encourage socialization among all students. A natural tendency among students is to sit and talk with those similar in age and experience. In teaching the adult and younger students, create a relaxed and casual atmosphere to promote socialization. (Davis Instructor’s Manual, vi)
Additionally, The Adult Learner’s Companion includes a number of helpful “best and worst practices” that adult learners can adopt as they seek to make the most out of their college experience. These tips will help them as they strive to maintain a healthy mindset and a positive outlook towards their college endeavors:
- Trust yourself. You have the experience, knowledge, skills, and wisdom to succeed in college and a career.
- See the relationship between what you know now and what you will know after you graduate.
- Keep an open mind and heart. You can always improve and expand on what you know.
- Put your knowledge, skills, and wisdom to work for your own success.
- Celebrate and rejoice in what you know—it will serve you well in college and in your career.
- Think you have no practical experience to apply to college and a career.
- Compartmentalize your life, seeing work, school, a career, and your family as separate and unconnected.
- Keep a closed mind, believing what you know is all you need to know.
- Resist expanding and developing your life, college, and work experiences.
- Focus on what you don’t have and what you don’t know. (Davis, 16-17)
As adult learners develop their confidence and comfort level, and as you build a welcoming and engaging classroom community, all the students in your courses will benefit from the exchange of ideas and experiences.
Do your courses include adult learners? How do you work to help them feel included in the classroom? What are your strategies for meeting their educational needs? Share your insights in the comments below.
If you’re seeking additional resources that can assist your efforts in reaching and engaging adult students, check out Pod 6, “Working With Adult Learners” from Cengage Learning’s TeamUP Professional Development Portal. To locate the pods, click on “Professional Online Development” in the left navigation.
Read our previous post, “Ten Suggestions for Adult Learners in Higher Education,” for tips to share with students.
Davis, Deborah. 2012. The Adult Learner’s Companion: A Guide for the Adult College Student, 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Davis, Deborah. 2012. Instructor’s Manual for The Adult Learner’s Companion: A Guide for the Adult College Student, 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
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