ILLINOIS STATE LIBRARY
Lesson 3 - Characteristics of Adult Learners
Page 2 of 6
Adult learners, who were raised in this country, often enter the classroom with apprehensive feelings because their different learning styles have led them to a history of failure. External factors and challenges have created many barriers for adult learners to succeed in life. As a result of this, many learners must balance home, family, and trying to earn a living, while going to literacy tutoring. As a tutor, you may find that adult learners may be motivated by these life experiences to improve their literacy skills. They may have a specific goal in mind like reading to their children or reading the Bible. They perceive education as a method of improving themselves, their circumstances and their families.
It is important for tutors to realize that adult learners also bring talents and strengths to the learning situation. They may have exceptional memories or an ability like cooking or repairing cars that has been a source of pride to them. All of these characteristics, strengths, and difficulties lead adult learners to learn in very different ways than children.
Take time to review the Adult Characteristics Chart that compares and contrasts the differences between adult learners and children.
Adult Literacy Volunteer Tutor Self-Assessment Survey
Consider the following survey questions. You will not be able to complete this survey online. This survey is meant as a tool for you as you think about becoming a tutor. The following questions are based on the information located in the above-mentioned Adult Characteristics Chart.
- I understand that adult learners are often apprehensive when entering the learning situation again.
- I understand that adult learners may have barriers to overcome that interfere with their learning.
- I understand that adult learners should be treated with respect.
- I understand that adult learners may have many great life experiences to share as part of the learning process.
- I understand that adult learners may become easily discouraged.
- I understand that working with adult learners is different than working with children.
- I understand that some adults may learn more slowly than children, but that adult learners have background knowledge and skills that children lack.
- I understand that anyone over the age of 16 is considered an adult.
- I understand that adult learners come to literacy programs for a variety of reasons.
- I understand that adult learners of literacy programs lack the basic skills of reading, writing, English language, and math.
All the questions above should have been answered with YES. From your reading and participation in the activity, you will understand that adults perceive themselves to be doers and use previous learning to achieve success as workers, parents, etc. Adults learn differently than children and they need to contribute to their own learning process. Adults also may have very different ideas about what is important to learn. They may be very concerned about the effective use of their time. The crucial point is that adults learn differently than children, and these differences need to be valued, respected, and incorporated into the teaching and learning process.