One of the Principles of Teaching Adults

Anyone that has stood in front of a classroom knows that there is a big difference between teaching adults and teaching children. Aside from a lack of note passing and paper airplane throwing, adult learners come into your training courses with a specific goal in mind; after all, something motivated them to enroll in your course.

Recognizing your learners’ goals is such an important part of adult education that Malcolm Knowles—the leading voice in the study of adult learning—notes this as the first of his five principles of teaching adults. And it makes sense: By harnessing this embedded desire to achieve, you can steer your students’ motivation and lead them to a positive learning experience.

That means part of your role when designing a course is to make sure learners see exactly how the course can help them achieve their goals and then provide a framework that allows them to achieve them.

Show your learners what they can expect

When starting a new course, it is important that learners see how the in-class lessons will help them reach their goals. Make sure it’s clear from the onset what they can expect to achieve by completing your training course. Once you know their motivations, you can design your course to preview the outcomes they can expect to see once they complete it.

Right off the bat, your course should demonstrate to your adult learners how the content will be relevant and applicable to their lives and careers. Talking about goals and how your course can help learners reach them creates buy-in and can improve engagement.

Include course elements that fit your learners’ goals

When you think through the goals and motivations of your adult learners, you can use the principles of teaching adults to design a course that helps them learn and grow in their desired ways. It’s also important to think about how your learners’ will use this knowledge after completing your course. What kinds of outcomes do you want to see in your graduates?

This will help you include different course elements that more appropriately engage your learners and help them meet their goals. Depending on how the training concepts will be used, some course aspects will be more relevant than others.

For example, if a learner is taking a certification course in food safety and needs to know the rules and regulations surrounding that topic, ending the course with a quiz is an important step to test their knowledge and ensure they understand the material.

However, for a learner who wants to grow as a professional in a leadership course, a multiple choice test will probably not benefit them much. Instead, your leadership class could participate in a role-playing scenario in which they put their new-found leadership skills to the test.

Keeping your adult learner’s motivations in mind is one of the most important principles of teaching adults. If you structure the elements of your course with this principle in mind, you’ll be helping learners achieve their goals and stay motivated to successfully complete the course.