Because of adult learners’ multiple roles and responsibilities, they often choose a more flexible format to complete their learning. Most of them will pursue studies on a part-time basis, taking one or two courses or choosing weekend offerings so that they can maintain work and family responsibilities. They also try to seek asynchronous online learning opportunities that free them from time and location restrictions.
Assistant Professors, Department of IT
March 12, 2013
Professional Development Workshop
• Zhang, C. & Zheng, G. (2013). Profiling and Supporting Adult Learners. In Leone, S. editor. Synergic Integration of
Formal and Informal E-Learning Environments for Adults Lifelong Learners. IGI Global.
• Zhang, C., & Zheng, J. (2013), Supporting Adult Learning: Enablers, Barriers, and Practices, ACM Special Interest
Group for Information Technology Education Conference, SIGITE 2013, Orlando, FL, October 10-12.
• Brief introduction
– Adult learner characteristics
• Facilitators and barriers to adult learning
– Teaching strategies
– E-learning environments (technologies)
• LMS, Web 2.0, MOOC, PLE/SLN
– Administrative support
• Including Prior Learning Assessment
Adult Learner Characteristics
• Three aspects
– Learning motivations and expectations
– Learning styles and capabilities
• The characteristics of adult learners are
generalizations of a large and diverse group
of people with wide range of abilities,
educational and cultural
and job experiences.
• They are
– over 25 years old (definition by GOAL ).
– financially independent of their parents.
– may be married and have dependents.
– less involved in campus life and activities.
– may have a fulltime or part time job.
– have multiple roles and responsibilities in life.
– may have more fixed and tighter schedules.
– have a greater depth, breadth, and variation of life and work experiences
than younger people.
• Because of adult learners’ multiple roles and responsibilities. They often
choose a more flexible format to complete their learning.
– Part-time program or weekend offerings
– Asynchronous online learning.
Learning Motivations and Expectations
• 92 percent of the adults surveyed indicated to maintain or improve skills and knowledge
they already had;
• 77 percent indicated they participated to learn new skills or knowledge;
• 33 percent participated to get or keep a certificate or license.
• 19 percent wanted to acquire skills and knowledge to help change jobs or career fields;
Adults' motivations for participating in formal and work-related courses
• Goal-oriented. They have relatively clearer goal and better decision in what to learn and
apply, and what is important and relevant for career goals. This is unlike young learners
who are more undecided and more open to try and change.
• Result-oriented. They expect a clear value of the education and what they are learning
to be immediately useful (Ittner & Douds, 1997). They will leave if the education does
not lead to those results.
• Very practical and relevancy-oriented. They expect the learning directly relevant to their
work and life. If they don’t see a relevancy they usually feel lost and disoriented. They
also require learning or any task to be reasonable and well explained. They will not
perform a task just because the instructor assigned it.
Strong and specific expectations
Learning Styles and Capabilities
• Have more life and professional experience and knowledge.
– Tend to feel more guided and oriented when given a big picture of the field and are clearly
shown where they currently stand.
– Are more comfortable at discussing abstract ideas and concepts that are generalized from
individual examples and past experience.
– May have established viewpoints and strong beliefs.
– They are critical thinkers, and need to verify the information based on their beliefs and
experiences. They are more often skeptical about new information, and are more
protective and prefer to try it out before accepting it.
– Are more engaged in the learning process and therefore contribute more in classroom
discussions and online discussions.
• The experience they have can serve as a great asset in higher education, but it
can also bias their perceptions about how education will occur.
– Past experiences may actually make the learning harder if incorrect or pre-conceived ideas
are not recognized by the teacher.
– If successfully guided by the instructor, the former experiences can facilitate adult learners
in making the past experience more meaningful and relevant.
• Have more solid soft skills particularly
– Self-directed and self-paced in terms of learning planning and management.
– Have more matured learning habits, such as conducting independent research, identifying
patterns and trends from readings/practices, and being better at reviewing and reflection.
– Communicate better either with peers and instructors.
Use of Technologies
• The popularity of computer use and distance learning have made it
more and more important that adults be comfortable using computers
and web based application to learn (Johnson, 2011).
• However, many adults are usually late adopters of new technologies,
and have resistance to and poor attitudes about using technologies.
– Newer devices and applications are coming out at a very rapid pace. Adults
are faced with having to constantly keep up with the changes of
technologies, but have a difficulty of switching away from the technology
that they are already familiar with.
• Instructors cannot assume a quick familiarity with technologies such as
learning management systems or even more advanced synchronized
online meeting environment, or the latest web 2.0 tools.
– Adults need even more training on the use of computing tools before they
can really embrace the new learning environment.
– Learning progress can be really slowed down if they are struggling with
technology issues and not actual course work, such as trouble shooting
technical problems (either hardware or software) and slow operations on
computers. All these troubles can make the best technology fail if the needs
of adult learners are not identified and addressed.
Facilitators and barriers
• Rich life and work experience.
• Past experience motivates to learn.
• Strong motivation to improve knowledge and skills.
• Relevant to life.
• Poor academic preparedness.
• Lack of previous success. Are anxious about returning to
school because of a long gap in education.
• Past experience may be biased or incomplete.
• Late adopter of technologies. Resistance to change.
• Ability to absorb new information due to aging.
• Less involved in campus activities; more
• More open to discuss and communicate with
• Have multiple roles in life: work, family, financial
• Rigid schedules and limited time.
• Tight budgets (debt) and lack of support.
• A variety of learning program options (e.g., online
program, part-time program, accelerated training
• Academic advising and other ancillary supports
(e.g., counseling, career service, child care)
• Flexible course schedules
• Lack of information and support.
• Rigid course schedule and degree requirements.
• Teaching methods and course delivery that do not match adult
learners’ needs (e.g., more memorizing content, irrelevant to
life, information cannot be applied immediately)
•Active learning refers to a general type of learning methods that focus on active participation of learners
(Bonwell & Eison, 1991). It has been widely accepted in higher education as one of the effective
instructional methods. Active learning practices favor student participation and engagement in the
learning process and encourage learning from students’ own efforts. Common practices include active
writing, classroom discussion, problem solving, case study, learning by teaching, etc.
•Collaborative or cooperative learning involves students working in groups, or a joint effort of students
and teachers (B. Smith & MacGregor, 1992). Like active learning, collaborative learning is centered on
students’ exploration or application of knowledge, and in addition, emphasizes interaction with others
and knowledge sharing (Du & Wagner, 2005). Common practices include student team work in paper
writing, presentation, and development projects.
•Particularly for adult students, learning from peers can best capitalize their experiences and knowledge.
Adult students can serve as resources to the instructor and fellow learners. Instructors may use open-
ended discussions to draw out students' knowledge and experiences.
•The essence of authentic learning is to relate learning to real world issues and problems. Instructors can
provide examples that are directly related to their work environment, use case studies that directly relate
to every work and life, or offer real world projects if any business or organization can sponsor the work.
A curriculum can also offer practice focused courses like capstone, independent study, internship, etc.
•Personalized learning approach provides flexibility and choices to accomplish course objectives.
Personalized learning is learner centered. Instructors should serve as a facilitator and find out what
students want to learn and then customize course work to their interests and needs, within the general
course scope, objective and learning outcomes. For example, a term project option can be offered to
replace a final exam. Or, an option can be offered to write a paper or to develop a system as a term
project. The topic for each project can also be customized to learner’s interest.
• More and more adult learners prefer an online learning
format because of their rigid schedule and self-paced
• The traditional formal learning environments like LMS are
rather closed systems and are restricted to time and
• A number of Web 2.0 concepts and applications have
demonstrated the potential to move learning to a more
open, sustained, and learner-centered environment to
support lifelong learning.
– Social networking
– Media sharing
– MOOC (massive open online
– LMS 2.0: OpenClass
– Community of practice (CoP)
– SLN (social learning network)
• http://einztein.com, http://remixlearning.com, http://www.sophia.org
– Social media tools (wiki, blog,…)
– PLE (Personal Learning Environment)
Level of support Services to support Adult Learners’ learning and success
Instructor A variety of teaching methods and educational technology,
accommodating class policy, relevance of the course
Academic program /
- Flexible class schedules
- Distance learning options
- Career-related certificate program options
- Accelerated class options
- Part-time degree programs
- Academic advising
- Course credit for life experience (Prior Learning Assessment)
Institution - Financial aid packages
- Child care services
- Transportation options
- Course credit for life experience (Prior Learning Assessment)
- Academic, educational and career services
Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)
• PLA is defined as
– “The evaluation and assessment of an individual’s life learning for
college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further
education or training” (Council for Adult and Experiential Learning,
• Assessment options
– AP and IB
– CLEP exams
– Portfolio-based assessment
• Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the
Classroom: The George Washington University.
• Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (2013). Prior Learning Assessment Services.
• Du, H. S., & Wagner, C. (2005). Learning with Weblogs: An Empirical Investigation. Paper
presented at the Proceedings of the 38th Annual Hawaii International Conference on
System Sciences, 2005.
• Johnson, M. (2011). Adult Learners and Technology: How to Deliver Effective Instruction
and Overcome Barriers to Learning. from http://www.umsl.edu/~wilmarthp/modla-links-
• Huang, H.-M. (2002). Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning
environments. Britislh Jourrnal of Educational Technology, 33(1), 27-37.
• Ittner, P., & Douds, A. (1997). Train the Trainer: Human Resource Development Press.
• Smith, B. and MacGregor, J. (1992). What is Collaborative Learning?, in: Collaborative
Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education, National Center on Postsecondary
Teaching, Learning and Assessment, 1992, 9-22.
• University System of Georgia (USG) Adult Learner Website
• Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL)
• American Council on Education (ACE) Adult Learners
• Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Adult Learning
• SPSU Adult Learners