Teaching Methodologies for Adult Learners
Teaching methodologies tailored towards working professionals exist in abundance. Through a process of trial and error and relying on the needs of their specific audience, educators must adopt a strong and diverse approach to teaching adults, one that preferably combines visual, auditory and kinesthetic methodologies. Above all else, though, adult educators have to consider that no single method is superior to others. Educators must cast a wide net and combine multiple methodologies to cater to the diverse backgrounds (work, academic and life experience, culture, gender and marital status, among others) of their adult students.
Collaborative Learning: Simply put, this methodology consists of assembling pairs or small groups of students to work together towards a common goal. Studies have shown that working in groups stimulates critical thinking, better engages the students with the material, and allows participants to recall information more easily. Furthermore, this type of learning promotes creativity and the development of problem-solving and decision-making skills. Examples of collaborative learning include Think-Pair-Share (TPS), Stump Your Partner Technique, Fishbowl Conversation, Case Studies and Group Problem-Solving Processes, among many others.
Discussion: Structured, panel and open-forum discussions are useful when leading adult-oriented courses. In structured discussions, adult educators provide learners with a topic, a set of criteria and clear, concise objectives. Under this style of discussion, the adult educator serves as guide, engaging adult learners, summarizing relevant points and ideas, and drawing conclusions from the conversation. While too much structure may be off-putting to many adult learners, this methodology might be required when time is of the essence. Panel discussions, also known as colloquia or symposia, involve short presentations by a series of lecturers. As a way of motivating adult educators to participate, panel discussions should ideally be followed by a question-and-answer session or a structured discussion on the presentations. Finally, open-forum discussions grant adult learners greater leeway in terms of participation, structuring the conversation and being held accountable for what is said. In this case, adult educators provide a topic and allow participants to engage in open, unfiltered debate, only jumping into the discussion in his or her role as mediator.
Questioning Technique: Also knows as the Socratic Method, this technique encourages students to engage with the material in a more critical manner. In essence, answers to initial questions lead to the posing of additional questions, making students delve deeper into the subject being studied ad infinitum. This method pushes students to work together to find new ways of explaining concepts and solving problems. It is imperative for educators to constantly ask questions and their follow-ups to spark critical thinking among adult learners. The end goal for all adult educators must be to prepare adults learners via critical thinking to remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create knowledge.
Role Playing: Playacting, or personifying other people, is an important technique in the field of educational simulation. This method allows adult learners to play the role of another person and put in practice skills they have acquired or hope to acquire. Adult learners are handed realistic roles and a scenario to act out. Then, both participants and observers discuss the results of the classroom exercise, pinpointing what they have learned, what they could have done differently, and how they may use the lessons accrued in future real life situations. Role-playing serves a vital purpose in developing advanced cognitive and communication skills, teaching empathy, and eliminating negative attitudes and behaviors, all within a “realistic” setting. Furthermore, this strategy places the students front and center and allows them to receive immediate feedback for their performance without having to face real consequences as a result of their actions. Educators must keep in mind that role-playing can take place in a variety of mediums—face-to-face, written, online and virtual, to name a few.
Storytelling: The use of stories is an excellent teaching technique when an educator is confronted with abstract or vague topics such as “leadership” or “ethics.” Storytelling is at its most effective when it is delivered by a role model in a personalized, nuanced, dramatic yet succinct fashion. Overall, enlightening and well-executed context-specific stories serve as sources of engagement and inspiration and provide listeners with a strong call to action.
Technology-Based: In this day and age, adult educators must incorporate technology to their teaching. For example, social media applications, relatively cheap and readily available multiplatform technologies, are of paramount importance to the handling of affairs in all fields of life. Using social media in the classroom provides interesting challenges to the adult learner while engaging them in real life, collaborative processes. Blogging, setting up webpages, using Twitter, Facebook, Storify, Instagram, Skype, etc., participating in online teamwork on apps such as Flow and Basecamp, and chatting online, among a myriad of other technology-based activities, should be introduced to adult learners to enrich their educational experience and bring them up to speed in a rapidly changing and ultracompetitive market.
Marios Siathas, General Manager, EIMF