The same things that can make your classroom more challenging to manage can also make it a richer experience for both you and your learners. Having a mix of different generations in your class can be one of those challenges. Adult learners will likely walk in the classroom door with some different experiences, strengths, and demands than more “traditional” learners have. But as with all learners, the key to reaching them is in engaging them. Below, we share five guidelines to help you engage adult learners, adapted from the TeamUP Professional Development Portal module on Engaging Adult Learners.

Have you led a group of learners from varying generations and walks of life? How about a classroom of mostly adult learners? What did you do to engage them? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments section below!

Those looking for easy answers as to how to engage adult learners will have to give up their search. There are no easy answers.  However, a few easy guidelines can be a big help in helping the instructor and the adult learner.

  1. If you waste an adult learner’s time, you’ll lose him. When working with this population, be focused and be relevant.
  2. From the very first day, find ways to reel in your adult learners.  Aim to have them leave your class or seminar thinking, “Wow! This is great. I’ve never had a class like this before.” Aim to be the best they’ve ever had—the class they’ll remember and use.
  3. Always observe how things are working in your class. Is someone dominating the conversation? Is anyone tuned out? You have a lot of plates to juggle, and your adult learners will observe how well you’re coordinating and facilitating.
  4. Never be afraid to give positive reinforcement. For the adult learner, praise is a kind of emotional paycheck that says the stress and strain are worth it. No matter how confident someone appears, he or she is usually less so and appreciates kind words.
  5. Consider such options as letting students call you by your first name (we’re talking post-secondary teaching here) and giving out your phone number. Many instructors say their adult students appreciated being on the same level as instructors and felt more secure when they had a phone number at which the instructor could be reached. Surprisingly, few instructors had anyone abuse the privilege. (TeamUP, Cengage Learning)

This content is from the TeamUP Professional Development Portal, and makes up a small part of one of the self-paced multimedia modules available. This is a portion of an article from the module Engaging Adult Learners, which is part of Pod 6: Working with Adult Learners. For a full list of available content, visit this site.
TeamUP, a part of Cengage Learning, is a group of college educators who provide peer-to-peer support, consulting services and innovative faculty development. Visit the TeamUP Professional Development Portal Web site for professional development opportunities and earn continuing education units.