Adults learn differently than children. Unlike children, adults often choose the subjects they learn, and determine what topics within those subjects are most important to learn. Most Cooking Matters participants expect that they will learn something about cooking, nutrition, budgeting, and/or food safety, that they will meet people, and that they will have fun.
How do you work with adult learners?
As an instructor, you need to get to know the participants, what is most important to them, and what experiences they have to share. You will be more effective in meeting their expectations for the class when you know what your participants want to learn.
Compare How Children and Adults Learn:
Children as Learners
Adults as Learners
Rely on others to decide what is important to be learned.
Decide for themselves what’s important to be learned.
Expect what they are learning is going to be useful in the future.
Expect what they are learning to be useful now.
Have little or no experience to draw on.
Have much experience to draw on; may have fixed view points
Have little ability to serve as a knowledgeable resource.
Are a resource to the instructor and fellow classmates.
Accept the information being presented at face value.
Need to validate and relate the information being presented based on their beliefs and experience—and have different learning styles for doing so.
Let's explore each of these in more detail:
Adults decide for themselves what’s important to be learned
It is important for you to allow participants some input into what they want to learn. This does not mean that you teach topics that are less important or are outside of the curriculum. Instead, you can incorporate participants’ interests into the lessons so that they find the information valuable.
To teach what adult learners think is important, you can:
- Ask participants what they want to learn
- Find out if participants have any concrete goals
- Ask participants directly how you can help them reach their goals
- Give participants a choice of nutrition lesson focus
- Allow participants to choose the recipes
Adults expect what they learn to be useful now
During class, use practical examples and relate learning to real life situations. After introducing an idea, ask the participants to share examples from their lives. If you don’t make information relevant, your participants will not retain what you have taught. Case studies, in-class problem-solving and participatory activities help adults find ways to immediately apply information to current problems or situations.
As an instructor, it’s important to communicate the lesson in a way that there is an obvious “pay off” to learning what you are teaching. This means that you must introduce new information in the context of real life situations and offer practical solutions to problems.
Adults at any age have experience to draw on and therefore may have fixed points of view
Another characteristic of adult learners is that they may have fixed points of view about certain things, especially topics as universal as cooking, eating, and budgeting. Since so much of what we believe and know is based on our real life experiences, adults can be closed to new ways of thinking or behaving. We tend to apply what we believe are “tried and true” solutions to things.
The instructor’s job is to make the classroom and the kitchen a safe and comfortable space for participants to experiment with new ways of solving problems.
To overcome strong opinions and influence fixed points of view in Cooking Matters courses:
- Know that debate and disagreement are okay and should be respected. Adults may think critically about information and have thoughtful questions on the subject you’re presenting
- Use thoughtful techniques when correcting participants, such as acknowledging and respecting the person’s opinion and way of thinking while offering support for your point: “I can see your point; however some people say that . . .”
- Use examples to illustrate your point, such as case studies and personal stories or activities
- Ask other participants to suggest other points of view and their own examples
- Bargain. Say, “If you try this and don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again.”
- Build off of participants’ experience to engage them by asking questions, allowing the group to reach their own conclusions, and asking participants to share their stories
Adults are a resource to the instructor and fellow participants
Adults have a need to learn from one another and to have opportunities to share their insights and ideas. As an instructor, there are times when you may not know the answer. Instead, use the class participants as a resource. Even if you are very knowledgeable in the subject matter, it is important to facilitate the learning so that it incorporates the participants’ knowledge and experience.
To successfully use class participants as resources, you can:
- Ask questions to spark discussion
- Facilitate the arrival at a group solution, rather than offering a solution for participants
- Provide opportunities for group work
- Ask for personal stories and reflection
- Provide opportunities for debate in class
- Use participatory teaching styles that allow everyone to share ideas and learn from each other
Adults have a variety of different learning styles and paces
We all have different learning styles and paces. Recognizing your own learning style can help you interact with participants and appreciate the learning styles that they have.
Different adult learning styles include:
- Conceptualizing—prefers concepts and theories
- Problem-solving–prefers to work through case studies or problems
- Hands-on–prefers to learn by doing
- Observing–prefers to learn by watching
- Visual–prefers to learn by using visual aids, charts, graphs, and written information
- Auditory–prefers discussion, stories, lecture
Use a variety of teaching styles to reach all students, including small group problem-solving, discussion, visual and participatory methods. Reaction times and speed of learning can slow with age, but the ability to learn does not go away. Most adults prefer other methods to lecture.
Now that you’ve read about some characteristics of adult learners, use the following scenarios to practice what you have learned, click HERE to test your skills
Seeking additional resources?
Check out the following books for more information:
- Planning Programs for Adult Learners: A Practical Guide for Educators, Trainers, and Staff Developers, 2nd Edition by Rosemary S. Caffarella
- The Conflict and Communication Activity Book: 30 High-Impact Training Exercises for Adult Learners by Bill Withers and Keami D. Lewis