Adult Education in Practice
'One can sense rather quickly on entering an institution whether it cares more about people or things, whether it is concerned about the feelings and welfare of individuals or herds them through like cattle, and whether it views adults as dependent personalities or self-directed human beings.'
The most important accommodation to be made for adults is accommodation in the physical environment. While research does not support the idea that adults' memory and intellect decline, it does show that adults experience a steady decrease in acuity of vision and hearing over time and should be accommodated (P.155-159, Cross). In addition, the social 'climate' becomes increasingly important to adults. Eliminating physical, social, and psychological load factors can facilitate learning.
This site discusses visibility issues including some tips for the effective use of technology.
Acuity of hearing diminishes with age. Some accomodation becomes necessary.
- Social Climate
Learning environment extends beyond physical elements.
Bibliography for this page.
Bibliography for the site.
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Be aware of the lack of visual acuity which comes with age.
- Typeset used on tests, hand-outs, and overheads should be as large as possible. Ornate script should be avoided.
- Before teaching a course in an unfamiliar room, check the visibility from various parts of the room. In particular, check for glare. Make sure there is enough overhead light. (P9, Draves)
- When using an ELMO projection system in a distance learning course, use a minimum font size of 24. When printing notes for the Elmo, fold a standard 8.5x11 sheet of paper into fourths and force yourself to stay inside that quarter. This will allow you to zoom in on the text.
- If the lights must be turned down in order to view multimedia presentations, be sure that recessed spotlights are available. Many students will wish to take notes but may not be able to see in the darkened classroom.
- Avoid overhead pens which are light-colored. If color contrast is important, avoid red/green combinations which cannot be distinguished by colorblind learners.
- When designing web sites, use black on white text as your first choice. Research indicates black text on a light background (as close to white as possible) is the combination readers prefer. (Note: This website originally used black text on a white background. However, this was changed when a significant number of readers complained of the glare.)
- Websites aimed at information retrieval are designed differently from those aimed toward surfers. The goals are conflicting ones. (P10-11, Spool, et al.) If you don't choose your approach carefully, you are in danger of alienating the learner.
- Website users do not form mental models of a site. Therefore, the integration of numerous navigational links is very important.(P18-20, Spool, et al.)
Acuity of hearing also diminishes over time.
- As men age, they tend to lose high frequency hearing. Women, on the other hand, lose hearing at low frequencies. Thus, older male students will hear male instructors best and older female students will hear female instructors best. (P156, Cross)
- Rapid speech can result in a loss of intelligibility of up to 45% for older people. Older adults take longer to translate the meaning of sound and to act on it. (P156, Cross)
- Try to select a room which is free of outside noise or noise from equipment. (P8, Draves) Many older learners have difficulty filtering extraneous noise.
- Be sure that multimedia presentations can be heard in all parts of the room. Often, the speakers used in these presentations are not aimed toward the audience and are very small.
Structured learning situations are often associated with previous, unsuccessful methods of education. Thus, it is best to try to make a learning experience involving adult learners as different as possible from elementary and secondary experiences. (P12, Draves) Some of the symbols perceived as childish to particular adults might be school buildings in general (in which case meeting outside the institution might be appropriate), podiums, rows of chairs, or chalkboards. (P47, Knowles) The following list of tips is geared toward improving the social climate.
- Creating the climate begins before the first student arrives. It is created through any contact the learner has with the educator. It is built when that educator recognizes the learner as a fellow learner. It is created through print materials pertaining to the class when these materials allow the learner to be part of the design of the course. It continues with the initial greeting and the opportunity to meet fellow learners. Participants must be placed in a sharing relationship at the outset. (P.270, Knowles)
- A climate of inclusiveness is important in our diverse society. Tisdell suggests that inclusivity should be attended to on three distinct levels: (Imel)
For more information about the diversity of learners, see the Women, Gender, and Ethnicity section of this site.
- Reflect the diversity of those present in the learning activity itself in both the curriculum and the teaching style. Remember that the dominant ethnic group brings with it a particular world view.
- No one teaches (or learns) in a vacuum. It may be necessary to attend to the wider and immediate institutional contexts in which the participants work and live. Is the instution a place of welcome for ALL learners? What is the message learners receive from their communities? What are the 'rules' of the learning community?
- Reflect the changing needs of an increasingly diverse society. The educational goals that were appropriate fifty years ago may no longer be appropriate.
- Language can convey unquestioned assumptions about the roles of learners. 'Teacher' and 'Student' convey a status and power differential which may not be appropriate (or necessary) with adults. (P.47, Knowles) Referring to students as 'kids' or 'my students' is rarely appropriate. Adults are more open to learning when they are respected.
- In a study of those variables that made literacy programs work with adult students, the most important factor was the relationship between instructor and learner (P. 65, Vella) Carefully listening is the most important behavior for building this relationship. (P.47, Knowles) This is probably not a surprise to long-time developmental studies educators. They have seen the importance of a sound relationship which promotes friendliness and fun without trivializing the content.
- Many people see production of knowledge as a social activity which is embedded in a certain cultural and world view. (P.30, Braidotti, et al) They recognize the power relations inherent in knowledge production. Hence, before real exchange of information takes place, the instructor should share information about her\his point of view. The information the educator should share is personal position (assumptions) and situatedness (race, class, ethnicity, etc). (P.11, Braidotti, et al). Sharing position and situatedness allows students to identify bias. Even in a 'scientific' field, the instructor will have a bias which should be disclosed. Sharing situatedness also allows learners to feel safe and confident in the instructor because learners can trust in the competence of the design (P.7, Vella) and feel assured that the instructor has taken his/her bias into account.
- Be sure students understand the importance of mutual respect, openness, collaboration, support, friendliness, risk-taking, and challenge (P.11, Galbraith) To admit to lack of knowledge in front of one's peers can be a terrifying prospect. Most learners will not attempt it if the climate is not right.
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Braidotti, Rosi, Ewa Charkiewicz, Sabine Hausler, Saskia Wieringa. (1994). Women, the Environment, and Sustainable Environment. London: Zed Books, London.
Cranton, Patricia. (1996). Professional Development as Transformative Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cross, Patricia. (1981). Adults as Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
In Chapter 7 of her book, Ms. Cross reviews the research on adult ability to learn and concludes that until extreme old age is reached, adults retain their memory and ability to learn.
Draves, William A., (1984). How to Teach Adults. Kansas: The Learning Resources Network.
This easy to read how-to book is full of ideas and an excellent resource for anyone who teaches adults.
Galbraith, Michael W. (1992 April). Nine Principles of Good Facilitation. Adult Learning, P10-.
The idea of 'load factors' along with several excellent tips for facilitating adult learning is discussed in this article.
Hill, Alyson L.(with Lauren Scharff). (1997) Readability Of Websites With Various Foreground/Background Color Combinations, Font Types And Word Styles. http://hubel.sfasu.edu/research/AHNCUR.html [1998 February].
Imel, Susan (1995). Inclusive Adult Learning Environments. ERIC Clearinghouse, http://ericacve.org/docs/adt-lrng.htm, Digest No. 162.
The other notes numerous issus in creating an inclusive environment for learning.
Knowles, Malcolm. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. New Jersey: Cambridge/Prentice Hall Regents.
The Draves book (above) draws heavily from this classic work.
Spool, Jared M., Tara Scanlon, Will Schroeder, Carolyn Snyder, Terri DeAngelo. (1997). Web Site Usability. North Andover, MA: User Interface Engineering.
If you are designing web pages and are concerned about readability, this book is a must-have.
Vella, Jane. (1994)Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
This easy-to-read book on instructional design has a true international flavor and offers many excellent strategies for teaching non-traditional students.
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Last edited: April 1999
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Roberta S. Lacefield
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