Tutoring Adult Learners

A recent surveys suggest that almost 22% of the nation’s college students are adult learners.

These “non-traditional” students come from diverse socio-economic, cultural and employment backgrounds. 

Some are entering college for the first time while others are returning to school after extended time in the home or workforce. Regardless of their different backgrounds and reasons for attending college, they have a lot in common. 

Awareness of some of the principles behind adult learning can make your sessions more productive, enjoyable and rewarding for both you and your student:

   
  • Adults are people with years of experience and a wealth of information.  Identify and then focus on the strengths learners have, not on the gaps in their knowledge.
  • Adults have established values, beliefs and opinions.  Expect and respect the debate and challenge of new ideas. Demonstrate and model respect and tolerance for diversity.
  • Adults are people whose style and pace of learning has probably changed.  While reaction time and speed of learning may be slower, ability to learn is not impaired.
  • Adults relate new knowledge and information to previously learned information and experiences.  Present concepts and applications relevant to personal situations.  This requires that you “get to know” your student, his background and his current situation.
  • Adults are people with bodies more influenced by gravity than yours.  Plan more frequent breaks; use more interactive learning.
  • Adults have pride.  For some adults the classroom and tutoring sessions are not perceived as safe nor comfortable environments.  Create an atmosphere in which any question is a good one to ask.
  • Adults have a deep need to be self-directing. This means that they want to be interactive and assertive in their learning.  They will let you know the pace, the learning method, the strategies that work best for them…and they will expect you to be interactive and assertive in your role as tutor.
  • Individual differences among people increase with age.  Take into account differences with style, time, types and pace of learning.  Use auditory, visual, tactile and participatory teaching methods.
  • Adults tend to have a problem-centered approach to learning.   Emphasize how learning can be applied in practical settings.  Discuss how concepts, etc. develop skills necessary in their potential career fields, in their home lives and in their current jobs.