In the context of learning, adults come to a class with certain knowledge and understanding about the subject being taught. Their age, experience and expertise prompt them to learn a subject as a solution to a problem rather than for the sake of knowledge. It is a good thing to have knowledge as an adult but not too good for an adult-teacher. For a teacher, adult student’s preconceived ideas hinder the teaching-learning process of striking common ground, creating group interest and establishing key goals for a class. Students with varied educational back grounds and experiences learn mostly as individuals rather than as a group. Such scenarios are common for adult teachers and challenge them to seek newer ways of teaching.
There are four major styles of learning, according to Merriam & Caffarella in their article ‘Four perspectives in learning’ (1991) - Behaviorist, Cognitive, Humanistic and Social learning. Behaviorist orientation says that students should be taught skills and techniques which help their survival in career and teacher should help them also to eliminate what is unnecessary. This technique is employed mostly in the modern context where adults are trained to learn what is necessary. Cognitive orientation is how human brain links information from past to the new and how it is organized. This kind leads to research oriented students. Humanistic approach says that humans learn to better themselves and therefore it is the major motivator for students. Social Learning is how students learn by observing other students. In an adult class students would fall into any or all of these categories. While designing a course the teacher have to have these categories in mind so that the content appeals to all students alike. This again emphasizes the need for variation- visual, audio, verbal or hands-on experiences to be built into the course to keep students motivated.
Two-way knowledge transfer is common in adult student classes. In a lot of instances the students tend be more knowledgeable than the teacher. Some times they surpass by age or experience in a particular topic. The adult teacher needs to acknowledge and value the student’s interests in such cases but also be able to guide the thinking process. Motivation to learn can be high with adult students and cannot be compared with school going children. But the motivation to continue same pace of advancement need six forms of organization- Task, authority, recognition, grouping, evaluation and time ( Carole A.Ames quoting Epstein). These sets will help organize the class and also increase the participation levels. A teacher’s motivation comes from the students’ genuine interest. When questions in the class increase the conversation the true capabilities of the teacher come to the fore front and make the class fruitful.
As quoted in the Greater Expectations (2002 AACU Report) the purpose of higher education is ‘to help college students become intentional learners who can adapt to new environments, integrate knowledge from different sources, and continue learning throughout their lives’. Intentional learners are better motivated and are empowered, informed and responsible (Karl Wirth and Dexter Perkins, Thinking about learning). There is no denying of the fact that the teacher’s role in creating achievers, leaders and exceptional people has been established over the ages. A significant relationship between teaching style and academic achievement was found by a study conducted by Texas A&M University on Interdisciplinary Education (Gary J. Conti). Future decision makers are the current adult students and so their orientation towards excellence is a goal which drives the current teachers.
Merriam & Caffarella (1991). Four Perspectives in learning. Available at http://www.lifecircles-inc.com/Learningtheories/orientations.html
Carole A. Ames Motivation: What teachers need to know. Pages 11-13. Available at http://web.uncg.edu/soe/bf_course669/docs_session_6/motivtion-whatteachersneedtoknow.pdf
Greater Expectations (2002 AACU Report). Association of American Colleges and Universities. Liberal Education Outcomes- A preliminary report on student achievement in college Available at www.aacu.org/leap/pdfs/LEAP_report_FINAL.pdf
Karl Wirth and Dexter Perkins. Thinking about Learning: Motivating Students to Develop into International learners. Available at http://serc.carleton.edu/files/NAGTWorkshops/affective/workshop07/wirth.ppt
Gary J.Conti, Interdisciplinary Education. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. The Relationship between teaching styles and Adult student learning. Available at http://aeq.sagepub.com/content/35/4/220.abstratct