9 characteristics of Adult Learners and 9 strategies for Trainers

The field of adult education is relatively young, established in the late twentieth century by Dr. Malcolm Knowles. Knowles identified recognisable traits of adult learners and techniques to use when teaching adults. These differences are central to the requirement for those trained as teachers to obtain a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment TAE40110.   Despite teachers having degrees in education and extensive teaching experience, it is working with the adult learner that they may lack familiarity and expertise.class group

In addition to Knowles’ research we also know that in Australia around 50% of adults in the workforce have issues with learning, literacy and numeracy (LLN) therefore educators of adults also need to consider the language, literacy and numeracy skills required by learners and industry. This data is detailed in a study commissioned by the Australian Government called “No More Excuses” The Certificate IV Training & Assessment is currently undergoing an update which will soon mean that completing the LLN Unit (TAELLN411 Address Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Skills in the Workplace) is a core unit.

1.       Seek learning experiences because they have a use for that knowledge or skill . Learning is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

2.       Use learning to cope with specific life-changing events—marriage, divorce, a new job.

3.       Are autonomous and self-directed; they need to be independent and exercise control.

4.       Have life experience and prior knowledge, they draw upon this reservoir of experience for learning.

5.       Are goal oriented.

6.       Need relevancy. They are time poor, learning needs to give them the ability to immediately apply the skills and knowledge.

7.       Are practical, focusing on aspects of a lesson most useful to their work.

8.       Need to be shown respect.

9.       Need to increase or maintain a sense of self-esteem, this is a strong secondary motivator for adult learners.

When teaching adult learners trainers need to:

1.       Provide organised training with clear objectives explaining how the training will help attain the learner’s specific goals.

2.       Help learners integrate new ideas with their current knowledge and provide strategies for learners to keep and use new information.

3.       Recognise the learner’s needs and vary the pace accordingly.

4.       Take advantage of the preference to self-direct and self-design learning projects by giving learner’s frequent scenario based training opportunities.

5.       Remember that self-direction does not mean isolation. Self-directed studies can still involve other people and resources.

6.       Use resources that engage adult learners.

7.       Refrain from “spoon-feeding” the learner.

8.       Create a cooperative learning environment.

9.       Create opportunities for mutual planning.


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