Sixty-one adult (age 25 and over) and 95 traditional-age (ages 18 through 24) two-year college students responded to a battery of instruments (Adult Classroom Environment Scale, Adaptive Style Inventory, Principles of Adult Learning Scale, and an Evaluation of Instruction Questionnaire) distributed in five remedial English and five remedial mathematics courses. Data analyses indicated that student age accounts for little variance in student expectations of the classroom environment, learning style, or select course outcomes. Nevertheless, students in reading and mathematics classes with learner-centered activities achieved higher course grades. Adult students in the mathematics sections reported a greater sense of accomplishment and a more positive total course experience than their traditional-age counterparts.
College campuses are becoming diverse academic communities with adult students enrolling in increasing numbers. A 1990 nationwide campus survey of all types of institutions indicated that 6 million students over age 25 are studying for college credit each year (National Center for Education Statistics, 1992). Also established was the fact that 45% of all undergraduate and graduate students were over age 25, with the prediction that over the next seven years that proportion could increase. Nevertheless, higher education in general has not been very responsive to older learners. The exception to this has been the two-year institution, which includes junior, community, and technical colleges. The multifaceted role of the junior college, which includes providing terminal and transfer programs along with multipurpose services in the community, transformed many such institutions into community colleges, reflecting their wider role in the community (Boss, 1985; Mickler & Zippert, 1987). Because of their emphasis on serving the community, as well as their capacity for responding quickly to market needs, two-year colleges have been more successful than four-year institutions in attracting nontraditional learners. Adult students bring to the classroom unique learning interests, educational goals, and instructional needs. Are educators responding appropriately?
As college enrollments grow more diverse, meeting the instructional needs of a changing student population is paramount. Serving students well should include examining students' preferences for different teaching styles as well as their expectations of the classroom environment. The process should also include an examination of learning styles and how each of these factors--teaching style, classroom environment, and learning style --contributes to students' academic achievement and satisfaction. With the need for continuous learning to adapt in today's society, nonparticipation among adult learners will have serious consequences for everyone--the individual, the institution, and society.
Within this context, two basic queries formed the focus of the present study: (a) What, if any, is the relationship between students' ages and their ideal classroom expectations and preferred learning styles? (b) Are varying levels of academic achievement, sense of accomplishment, and overall course satisfaction a function of the interactions of differing teaching styles, classroom environments, and learning styles? Considerable attention in the research on adult learners has emphasized the importance of the learner's active role (Brookfield, 1988). Consequently, the facilitator's role has been given only secondary consideration (Brockett & Darkenwald, 1987). Researchers have expanded their interests to include the facilitator's influence on student satisfaction, achievement, persistence, and retention (Beder & Carrea, 1988; Charkins, O'Toole & Wetzel, 1985; Conti, 1985a, 1985b; Conti & Welborn, 1986; Graham, 1988), and the effect of the classroom environment on decision-making and communication patterns, outcomes, persistence, course content, and satisfaction (Beder & Carrea, 1988; Beer & Darkenwald, 1989; Darkenwald & Gavin, 1987; Ennis et al. …