I truly love teaching. No, let me be more specific. I love teaching adult learners. That’s an important distinction, as I know I’d be much less effective as a teacher of children. Nope, I’d self-assess myself as likely rather lousy teaching in elementary or middle school. And depending on the type of high school environment, I dare say I’d be awful at much of that, as well. But adult learners are a different breed…
Anecdotally, adult learners are non-traditional students. Many started their collegiate careers at an older age. Others began as traditional 18 year-old students, many even graduating with bachelor’s degrees, headed out into the “real world,” and are now returning for more advanced degrees. Some adult learners aren’t even seeking graduate credentials, but rather specialized education necessary to help them advance their careers. Still others are there simply out of a joy of learning.
So, what differentiates the adult learner from more traditional college and 20-something graduate students? Simply this…they’ve “been there” and “done that.” They’ve matured (both intellectually and emotionally) beyond the wild college years. And they bring practical, applied experience to my classroom. And what a difference that can make!
“So, it’s all a bundle of joy?” you ask.
- Bad habits – These aren’t limited to just behavioral habits, but more likely include attitudinal tendencies. Adult learners can sometimes be dismissive of new ideas (not more so than traditional college kids, but a dismissiveness borne out of habit or “comfort” with doing things one way).
- “But I have a job” syndrome – This is the refrain when time gets tight, work and academic deadlines are approaching, and one needs to read an additional 50 pages and write a 10-page paper. Trust me, I get it. Been there, done that…while flying 10-hours missions 3-4 times a week in the military! I can relate, but it doesn’t change the fact. Students are back in school not to simply get a sheepskin, but to actually learn. And learning takes real effort, and for adult learners, real sacrifice sometimes.
- Forgotten academic skills – Let’s face it…if we don’t use any skill for years or decades, our “mental muscles” for that task tends to atrophe. It’s no different for adult learners. Many have been outside the classroom for extended times, and while they are talented, intelligent, motivated learners, they often struggle initially to get back “in the swing of things” academically. And that can be a frustrating reality for many who are used to succeeding at everything they do professionally!
As adult learners work through these issues (which they do, particularly with a little coaching), the possibilities for creating an immensely enriching learning environment for both the students and the faculty explode! And that’s just what I eagerly await in this last week before the new semester.