What are the Best Methods for Teaching Adult Education?

B. Miller

In many ways, the methods for teaching adult education are the same as teaching students of any age; it is important to make the material interesting and engaging, to encourage participation from students, and to reinforce key concepts through different methods such as examples, lectures, and assignments. Teaching adult education also allows for different opportunities, however. For instance, adults may be more willing to do more self-directed learning, and to expand their knowledge with less guidance from the teacher. Adults may also learn at a slightly slower pace, particularly brand new material, so it is important to keep that in mind as well.

Classroom material should be interesting and engaging for students of any age.
Classroom material should be interesting and engaging for students of any age.

Teaching adult education will require the creation of lesson plans and curricula, but flexibility is important. Teachers should have the ability to deviate from the topic if the class seems particularly interested in a certain topic, or is becoming more engaged in a certain example. Capitalizing on the interest of students will help to maximize learning potential, and as long as the material that is required for the class is still covered, it often makes for a more enjoyable classroom experience. Lectures that encourage class participation and questions from students are one of the best methods for teaching adult education, particularly if there are a number of real life examples included in the lectures.

Lectures that encourage class participation and questions are one of the best methods for teaching adult education.
Lectures that encourage class participation and questions are one of the best methods for teaching adult education.

It is important that students do more than simply sit and listen to lectures, however, even if they are engaged and asking questions. Teaching adult education should include asking the students to apply their new knowledge. Problem solving assignments, for example, as well as papers or assignments that require additional research beyond the scope of the class can help to encourage additional learning and give students the ability to apply concepts in different situations. This will help with retention and memory as well. Encouraging students to hold discussions and voice viewpoints, even if they disagree with those of the instructor, will also develop students' skills in analyzing situations and thinking critically.

The pace of the class and the structure may be altered for adults as well. Though the same amount of material might be covered, some teachers of adults discover that slowing the pace and going more in depth into topics facilitates better learning. Teachers may assign group projects to assist students in learning to work well with other people, such as in a work environment. In addition, one benefit of adult education is that adults can give more constructive feedback to the instructor at the end of the class, which can help to improve any problems in the future.

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Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - It is a good idea to keep in mind what skill levels you are teaching though. If it's a group that are already fairly advanced in the topic you are going to have to make sure to keep them grounded in the real world by relating the subject to whatever reason they are taking the class for.

In other words, if they are taking a computer class in order to run a business, don't get them to do tasks that have nothing to do with the business. If it's a cafe, get them to redesign the menu, or do the accounts, or whatever else. This shows them real world examples as well as giving you a chance to critique them on something that they will have to do on their own eventually anyway.

Teaching adult education means that you have to constantly keep in mind that they are there for concrete reasons and not just because they don't have a choice.


@pastanaga - Cultural knowledge is a very good way to bring the skills of the adults in the class to the forefront, particularly if you've got a diversity of cultures, or if you're a different culture from the majority of the students.

I've taught adult education computer classes overseas before and getting the adult students to base their projects around local knowledge is a very good way of engaging them and making them feel like they are contributing something.


One thing I've noticed with teaching adults is that you really have to have a sense of humor and extend that to the entire class. People in adult education for things that they feel they should already know (like literacy, computer skills etc.) will often feel ashamed of their lack of knowledge and that's a huge impediment to learning.

If you make sure they all know that you don't judge them and that you value their other knowledge then they will be much more comfortable. And the easiest way to make everyone feel like an equal is with a few well placed jokes (hopefully at your own expense).

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