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How To Teach Adults

There some pretty profound differences between teaching to adult learners and teaching to child students. The methods that are used for adult learners can and should be varied to account for an increased experience level and a greater ability to absorb information. Children tend to respond better to repetition and drills, where adults get much more out of “big pictures” where they can piece together the detail on their own.
In addition, adults have a tendency to reject any form of teaching. This may sound strange knowing that the adult likely signed up and paid for your class. However, there is a distinction made between showing an adult the path and teaching him in micro-detail what the path is. Once again, I realize that this sounds odd, but when adults are being taught something, they are far more likely to believe you think they are stupid than a child would be. This is simply human nature.

Example of Teaching to Adult Learners

A great example would be if I offered to teach you how to drive a car. You may think to yourself that I have been driving x number of years, how on earth could this guy help me. Indeed, this may be absolutely true – There may be nothing I can possibly teach you that you don’t already know.
Shortly after you come to the conclusion that I can’t possibly help you, your thoughts will get a little bit deeper. This may turn into something like “Could you believe the nerve of this guy?” or how incredibly presumptuous is this arrogant jerk that he presumes he can teach me something I do every day.
To further this analogy, let us assume that you don’t know how to drive and signed up for my driving training. If my first class was how to tell the difference between the gas pedal and the brakes, you would probably walk out of my class in a second. However, a child would not. This is the main difference between children and adults, you must assume (whether you are right or not is irrelevant) that the adult has some basic knowledge accumulated just by walking the earth for 20+ years.

Using Interaction to Help Adult Learners

No matter if you are teaching something extremely complicated or extremely easy to an adult learner, you have to first gauge their knowledge. This can be done with simple questions to a group or even an individual. This accomplishes a few things:
If someone really needs to understand the basics of what you are teaching, they are basically asking you to teach it. You cannot be arrogant or insulting after someone specifically asked you to show them something.
The people that would be bored, insulted, or otherwise unhappy with your basic instruction, will now understand that you are doing this for someone in the classroom that needs this basic help. You are not teaching the basics to the guy that doesn’t need them, but he is simply along for the ride.
You are changing the dynamic from you being an authority, to you being on the level with your students. This keeps a lot of animosity out of the equation. You cannot treat adults like children or they will revolt.
If you gain one takeaway from this article, it should be that you have to let your students dictate your teaching method. This makes all the difference in the world and the best way you ensure that your students get the most out of your class. Adults are very quick to turn off someone that is trying to help them or teach them something. Of course, this isn’t everyone but certainly the majority of adults do not want to feel that you are superior to them. In this instance, chances are the fact that you have superior knowledge on the subject makes you an authority; however with just a few simple techniques you can make your students feel that they are superior to you!
Allow your students to let you know what they do and do not need from you. This way they are controlling the action and if you have to teach something that is extremely basic, they understand why you are doing so and they know it is not directed at them. It is a completely different mindset when teaching to adult learners and one that should be mastered before you begin.