Characteristics of Adult Learners

The characteristics of andragogy are well established.  The following short video provides an excellent overview:

This recent article also summarizes the characteristics of adult learners quite nicely, with an emphasis on how to encompass these concepts in an e-learning environment.  I want to focus on one of Knowles’ principles of andragogy for a moment:

“Adults need to be involved in the planning of their instruction and overall educational plan”

I thought about this principle in relation to a recent teaching engagement I had. A community health organization asked me to teach a small group of resident medical students on the topic of occupational health.  Because the training had to incorporate a very specific set of subjects that would be tested by way of a national exam, the course outline that I was provided was very prescriptive.  In other words, it didn’t seem like the students had any involvement in the planning of their instruction.  Here is an exert of the outline that I was provided:

Course Outline

Since I managed to build some flex time in to the schedule, I decided to give the students an opportunity to be involved in the planning of their instruction.  I thought it would help motivate them right off-the-bat.  So I asked them to work individually to rank each topic, from 1-5, in terms of their current knowledge and experience; and to indicate the top 3 subjects that they were interested in learning.  Here were the compiled results:

Course Outline - Markup.png

 This was really helpful for a number of reasons:

  1. Topics that I would be able to draw on their experience to help teach and perhaps facilitate more self-directed learning assignments were identified (i.e Biological Hazards);
  2. Topics that I would have to provide a bit more guidance and lecturing on were also identified (i.e. Environmental Surveillance); and
  3. Topics that the students thought were important to them were prioritized (i.e. Approaches for Diagnosis and Worker Surveillance)

Overall, I thought this helped the students feel like they were involved in the planning of their instruction.  It helped identify their motivations as well – whether it was because the topics were immediately relevant to their jobs (i.e. Approaches for Diagnosis) or because of a lack of knowledge or general interest (i.e. Health Promotion).  I was able to take the results and plan the instruction accordingly and I really felt like the students were off on the right foot after this exercise.


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