Adult learners working together on laptop

Traits of Adult Learners

And How to Keep Them Engaged

Working with adult learners comes with a lot of perks. They’re savvy, motivated learners who have specific goals in mind and they bring valuable personal experience that instructors can leverage to create engaging learning experiences. There are four key traits of adult learners that are important to keep in mind to build a comfortable, supportive learning environment that they’ll appreciate.

  1. Adult learners want to build skills now.

Although learning is fun, relevance is the key when it comes to supporting adult learners. That’s because adults (and especially professional learners) typically will be coming to you with career goals in mind. 

When preparing course materials for adults, remember that they will want to be able use the skills soon, on the job. So, make sure to lay out upfront—and emphasize throughout the course—how the skills you’re covering meet that requirement. It’s important to clearly map out what adult learners should expect during the course because it will allow them to see for themselves how learning connects with their specific career interests and goals (and how it applies directly to their position within the company, if they are learning through a organizationally-sponsored learning and development program).

Keep in mind that your roadmap can also provide useful reference points at times when you need to offer extra support to a learner who is struggling to understand a new concept or grasp a new training topic. This is especially true when using a facilitation-minded approach, which brings us to the next point.

  1. Adult learners benefit from a collegial atmosphere.

You can establish a productive learning environment by remembering that adult learners are your peers (they might even be colleagues) and are responsible learners. To create a collegial atmosphere, focus on leading the course as a facilitator by offering both guidance and ample opportunity for self-directed learning. As mentioned, adult learners know what skills they want to acquire and will look to you to help them understand how best to achieve their goal.

Adult learners will take a great deal of responsibility for their learning success precisely because of their specific learning goals. Keep that in mind, too, when determining when and how to intervene. Part of maintaining a collegial atmosphere is steering clear of micromanagement while still monitoring progress to provide timely support to someone who is struggling. You can stay on top of each learner’s progress by using early warning systems like pre-module assessments, mid-point evaluations, and other frequent appraisal techniques to determine when a supportive intervention might be useful. CourseArc’s student performance analytics feature can help you track your students’ progress so you can quickly identify when help is needed.

  1. Adult learners have knowledge to share.

Adult learners often bring a wealth—and wide range—of experience to any course. Use this to your advantage! Take adults’ expertise into account to develop course materials that are tailored to their skills, needs, and interests.

Focus on adapting lesson plans to what your learners are already bringing to the table. This strengthens their ability to see the real-world applications of what they’re learning and builds engagement. Inviting learners to share their knowledge when relevant ensures that they are active participants in the course. Who doesn’t look forward to classes that feel uniquely designed for them?

  1. Adult learners need flexibility.

Successful learning experiences geared toward adults must be flexible. Adults have competing demands—like work and family obligations—that limit the time they can devote to coursework. These limitations are part of what drives adult learners to be goal-oriented, but they are also important to consider when developing your course. 

One way to achieve flexibility is by taking stock of the materials you provide. For example, are you including a range of resource types and lengths? Beyond developing a course that weaves in variety, offer flexibility to adjust the learners’ schedules. The self-directed learning that you’ve incorporated to create a collegial learning environment also will set you up for success when it comes to building a course that’s flexible.

Remember…consider these key traits as a starting point when you design a course for adults. Feel free to lean into the points that resonate most for you based on your learners’ specific needs without compromising on other points. Because the four traits are interconnected, you’ll find that, even as you address one, you’re better able to build a solid foundation that strengthens the course across all of these areas.

CourseArc was built as a tool and team to support organizations as they build online content. Check out our resource site to see how we can help your team. See our tool in action and then check back to our blog and social media feeds for additional resources and case studies on how our clients are using CourseArc to move their professional development and training programs online. Take your learning and development goals and budget to the next level.

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