Characteristics of Adult Learner
Learning is a continuous, ongoing and a lifelong process. It is perhaps the fundamental process for survival and adaptation of human beings to both internal as well the external environment. Each learner has individual learning needs and it is important for the teachers/facilitators to know their learners well. The pedagogy applicable to child learner do not apply to adult learners. Hence the teachers/facilitators of adult learners prior to conceiving, designing or implementing learning programs have to first understand the characteristics of the adult learners.
Adult learners have a vast wealth of knowledge acquired by controlling their environment and experiences of life. Their opinions, values and beliefs are their defining characteristics which they bring to the learning situations. The teachers/facilitators in order not to hurt the self-image of adult learners have to treat them with utmost respect and equality. Any learning process constructed for the adult learners has to be geared to meet the needs of the adult learners. Adults are result-oriented. They have specific expectations for what they will get out of learning activities and will often drop out of voluntary learning if their expectations are not met. Many adults prefer to learn by doing rather than listening to lectures.
Many self-directed adult learners prefer a learning community with whom they can interact and discuss questions and issues. Most adult learners have numerous responsibilities and commitments to family, friends, community and work. Carving out time for learning affects adult learners. They want to be treated with respect. Adult learners increasingly develop the ability to work independently and cooperatively with others and across varied circumstances and issues that affect the common well-being and one’s own well-being in relationship to the world around them.
Adults typically prefer a sense of control and self-direction . They like options and choice in their learning environment. Even adults who feel anxiety from self-direction may learn to appreciate this approach if given proper initial support. Depending on their age and physical conditions, adult learners may acquire psychomotor skills more slowly than younger students and have more difficulties reading small fonts and seeing small images on the computer screen. Through experience, adults may fear a subject, have anxiety about a subject or feel anger about forced changes in job responsibilities or policies. These emotions can interfere with the learning process. Adults like to gain competence in workplace skills as it boosts confidence and improves self-esteem.
There are multiple challenges for adult learners due to the natural cognitive decline humans experience as they age. More time is needed to actively process new information. Processing speed is a cognitive ability that could be defined as the time it takes a person to do a mental task. It is related to the speed in which a person can understand and react to the information they receive, whether it be visual (letters and numbers), auditory (language), or movement. In other words, processing speed is the time between receiving and responding to a stimulus. This declines with age and lots of cognitive processes are affected due to this. Therefore, older people need more teaching time because their difficulty is with learning the information adequately for recall – once they have learned the information well enough their recall is not impaired . So it may take longer to teach adults compared to younger people thus they should be given longer teaching time.