Teaching ESL adults is a meaningfully challenging pursuit. Over the past decades adult learners use class-room learning facilities; such as, need for professional advancement, ambition to get more prestigious position in new sector, desire to be oriented with latest and updated skills or dream to fulfill long-cherished aspiration to have higher degree. Thus, adult ESL educators are experiencing rewarding challenge posed by adult learners. It is widely acknowledged that teaching adult is different from conventional teacher-oriented, test-driven, lecture-based adolescents or children’s teaching. Hence, adult instructors require more academic preparation and broad range of skills to facilitate adult learning and help achieve their goal.
Some important characteristics such as culture, ethnicity of adult learning population redefines by their age factor. Yet the differences of class, culture, ethnicity, and personality, cognitive style, learning patterns, life experiences and gender among adults are far more important than the fact that they are not children or adolescents. Adult learners who have been out of any classroom learning situations even older than the educators by age and sometimes by being possessor of varied and pragmatic experiences of life on earth.
Five assumptions describe the adult learner as someone who:
– has an independent self-concept and who can direct his or her own learning,
– has accumulated a reservoir of life experiences that is a rich resource for learning,
– has learning needs closely related to changing social roles,
– is problem-centered and interested in immediate application of knowledge
– is motivated to learn by internal rather than external factors.
Four learning principles, which include:
– adults are autonomous as they can take control of their learning.
– adults have many life experiences to contribute to the learning process.
– adults are problem based than content based.
– adults are goal-oriented and motivated by personal or job demands to learn.
Adults are independent learners. Their age long wealth of experience makes them result-oriented and keen on having specific goals in the end of a course. Adults have set beliefs, values, concerns, notion and conceptions of doing things. Being self –directed, they do not like to get knowledge in a passive way but love to interpret and transfer knowledge into skills by being actively involved into the entire teaching learning process. Furthermore, adults become essentially motivated when they perceive course materials and skills and can meet up their perceived needs. Previous adult literatures also refer that adult learners want more practical, career-applicable courses and programs. It is obvious that adult learners are mature students with special expectations from the course guide. Therefore, facilitators’ in-depth knowledge of the subject, comprehensive course plan, top-bottom preparation for time management, and class-room activities can accelerate consciousness, motivation and improve self-esteem to bring about greater academic success.
Action learning approach is also effective to work with developing people, which uses work on a real project or problem as the way to learn. Participants work in small groups or teams to take action to solve their project or problem, and learn how to learn from that action. A learning coach works with the group in order to facilitate them how to balance their work. So, whoever adopts this approach in adult teaching may divide the whole class into some small and constant groups (for a certain course duration) based on their real life experience and diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. There also should be a coach for individual groups and a supervising leader to manage, to render overall motivation, and to draw optimal outcome and mastery.
Experiential learning indicates learning from experience. Educators here involve their students in different learning activities to make the learning experience meaningful. This strategy opens the door to conduct interactive classes as it applies pair work, group discussions, dialogues, debates, role-playing, simulations etc. This learning theory also involves learners in the learning processes as learners are free to contribute in setting goals, planning course contents and designing class activities. Experiential learning components are:
– Cyclic process involving setting goals, thinking, planning, experimenting and making decisions, and finally action, followed by observing, reflecting and reviewing
– Uses participants' own experience and their own reflection about that experience, rather than lecture as the primary approach to learning. Experiential learning theory allows for the generation of understanding and allows for the transfer of skills and knowledge.
– Particularly effective in adult education as it addresses the cognitive, emotional and the physical aspect of the learner.
Project Based Learning is creative as its nurtures students critical faculty & reflection, incorporates innovative ideas and thoughts. Like in Action Learning, here in this theory learners also work in small groups, recognize problems, and sort out approaches to find ways out to the problems.
– The learners gather information from a variety of sources and synthesize, analyze, and derive knowledge from it.
– The learning is inherently valuable because it is connected to something real and involves adult skills such as collaboration and reflection.
– At the end, the learners demonstrate their newly-acquired knowledge and are judged by how much they have learned and how well they communicate it.
– Throughout this process, the teacher's role is to guide and advise, rather than to direct and manage student work.
Therefore, it may enhance team-spirit and co-operation among group members. It also may explore the potential of learners; encourage them to experiment and yield better performance. As such, this theory can be highlighted to be particularly effective for boosting up student’s confidence and co-operation among team members.
Self Directed Learning (SDL) becomes an inseparable part of adult learning literature. This idea explains that adult students can directly take part in planning, selecting, designing and evaluating their course materials with course instructor. They, being mature learners, can have greater control over their learning situations, methods as well. Thus, self directed learning has often been promoted as the goal of adult education. It emphasizes the value of autonomy and individual freedom in learning.
Instructional design factors:
– Adults can directly contribute on designing course materials and preparing syllabus.
– Adults can apply knowledge as to how they can do particular things from their experience briefcase.
– Adult learners can draw instant motivation if they come to realize that things are what they want to learn and they can choose procedures of teaching and evaluation.
– Meaningfulness of a course determined by their professional/personal needs.
– Favorable time frame to match up with their busy schedule.
– Comfortable learning environment makes them ready and receptive.
– Active participation in all phases of teaching learning processes, delivery plan or testing, increases their acquisition of new knowledge and critical thinking about the content to develop new skills which virtually groom them to be competent and socially responsible in real life, practical phenomenon.
As an adult educator, one can tailor instruction that helps adults overcome their fears, anxieties, and concerns and increases their self-confidence to be interactive. Appropriate teaching strategies, relevant lesson plans and productive learning environment lead them to self-discovery, to transferring of knowledge by bridging the gap between the old skills and the emerging new skills and professional competence. This paper intends to explore what exactly an adult learner is, and also to review adult learning principles and their implications for the mentors. From here, the focus is on what pedagogical and other techniques and methods would be appropriate to best support the needs of adult learners.
- Merriam, S.B, (2001) “Andragogy and Self-directed Learning: Pillars of Adult Learning Theory”. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no.89.San Francisco.
- Amstutz, D. D. (1999) “Adult Learning: Moving Toward More Inclusive Theories and Practices”. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no.82.
- Brookfield, S. (1995): Adult Learning: An Overview in A. Tuinjman (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford, Pergamon Press, retrieved from,http://www3.nl.edu/academics/cas/ace/facultypapers/StephenBrookfield AdultLearning.cfm
- Imel, S. (1995) “Teaching Adults: Is it Different”? Eric Digest No.82 Columbus.