Academic journal article Education

The Adult Learner Challenge: Instructionally and Administratively

Academic journal article Education

The Adult Learner Challenge: Instructionally and Administratively

Article excerpt

Since the late 1970s colleges and universities have been experiencing an onslaught of adult learners. As Brazziel noted in 1990, "put simply, adults are the fastest growing segment of all the population groups in higher education" (p. 116). These college students have been dubbed nontraditional students meaning that they are somehow different from the 18-24 year old college student. Brazziel also stated that "one factor that is seldom discussed is a change in the prevailing ethos regarding lifelong learning" (p. 129). In 1988, Apps mentioned several articles that discuss adult learners. He also said that there were several things that instructors of adults must take into consideration. Among those were that the adult learner should be given "an active role in the learning process ... [and] applications in their work or their daily lives" (pp. 100-101). What this article will examine is are the how these unique approaches to adult learning affect the instructor in the classroom and the administrators in the front office.

In 'the good ole days' a college professor or administrator would be able to dictate to the student what was to be done. For example, the idea of a CORE curriculum is valuable to the learner fresh from high school. The CORE teaches a potential student how to learn and maybe catches him or her up on necessary subjects such as mathematics and English. Traditionally, all education was directed at the 18 year old college freshman. Times have changed and colleges necessarily changed with them. When the number of college-age cohort dropped dramatically in the late 1970s and into the 1980s many schools turned to adult education as the means to support the college or university. But it took more than a change in the student catalogue to be successful in the area of adult education. This article will examine the differences between the traditional programs of a college and the adult education programs. This will be looked at from the perspective of the instructor in adult education programs and the administrator's view of adult education programs. This article will look at the differences in the learner's ages, needs, desires, and finally their goals.

The age of the learners in the classroom is a major adjustment for any college professor. Those instructors used to having the attention of the class merely by the virtue of being the oldest in the class is no longer a reality. Even in the traditional programs older students are enrolled (witness the recent graduation of a septuagenarian from a California university). The instructor must take into account that he or she may not be the oldest person in the room and be able to effectively deal with that situation. Along with the age comes experience, most of the students in an adult learning program have a great deal of practical experience. It is up to the instructor to draw upon that experience and use it in the classroom. A positive aspect of older students in an adult program is that they are usually all there to get an education. This means that rarely will you have to deal with a rowdy individual upsetting the class. The students, because of their age, quickly set positive norms in the classroom and enforce those norms. For the instructor being younger than most students can be a challenge; however, the advantages of older students outweigh the negatives in the classroom situation.

In preparing to teach a class of adult learners it is important for the instructor to take into account the needs of such a group. In most cases the adult learners do not require the foundations present in traditional learning. For example, in a class concerning management of employees the adult learner may need answers to particular questions and not a review of the basics. In a recent class about group and organizational communication, taught by one of the authors, students were able to identify the concept of "The Abilene Paradox" in their own working worlds. In this case the students had experienced the concept, but had not been given a name for the phenomenon. …

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