Tips for Being an Effective Instructor for Adults

Article to guide instructors:

What Makes for Effective Adult Learning – Wisconsin Union
A Wisconsin Union Mini Course Instructor Resource

Chere Gibson, Professor, School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Subject knowledge is not enough to make you an effective teacher of adults. The following guidelines may prove helpful as you work with participants.

  1. Involve participants. Active learning is a major principle incorporated into the module plans. The agenda for each module includes a series of activities that involve the participants. Although it will be necessary for instructors to do some lecturing to convey information, they will be more effective if they use the activities as their major teaching strategy. Although the amount of material presented may be less, the amount of material understood and retained will be much greater.
  2. Recognize what the learner knows. Adults bring years of experience to the session. Teaching will be more effective if it helps participants integrate the subject matter with their own experience. However, not all prior experience aids learning. Adult students may actually have to unlearn conclusions from previous experience before they can accept new ideas.
  3. The immediate usefulness of the information should be made clear. Instructors should make special efforts to accept the information participants add to the class, even when the information may not at first appear relevant. In most cases, when participants offer information, it is a way for them to relate what is being taught to their own experience.
  4. Participation in teaching events is usually triggered by some need. Instructors should take time to identify the needs of participants and, as much as possible, relate the instruction to these needs. Participants are likely to be looking for information that fulfills the need that brought them to the class and may be impatient with information they consider irrelevant.
  5. Consider yourself as an assistant in the learning activity, not simply as a source of information. Participants are likely to vary in the way they learn best. Therefore, instructors should offer multiple ways for participants to learn. Use visual aids, provide written materials, and include interactive exercises to augment lecturing. Interactive activities such as discussion, role playing, and small group sessions are often more effective than lectures.


The following website discusses Adult Learning Theory and Malcolm Knowles’s six assumptions of adult learners:


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