Prior to this course, I would have pictured “learners” as children and the traits that come with them. However, an article on adult learners outlines the some characteristics that are different when considering adults instead of children. Many of these differences come from adults having gained more life experience and being at a different life stage than school-aged individuals. These listed traits are based on the assumptions and principles described by Knowles in his 1984 research on this topic and summarised by this website. These include a need for:

  •  autonomy and control in the learning process, as well as self-direction
  •  material to be goal-oriented and practical; holding clearly seen value for the learner
  • respect and to be treated as equal
  • learning to be active rather than passive
  • learning to be problem rather than subject oriented

As well, adult learners often:

  • bring a wealth of knowledge from which to draw in their learning
  • can have baggage from negative life experiences or rigid thinking that hold back learning
  • have responsibilities other than learning, such as jobs and children
  • are motivated from within to learn
  • come from varied experiences and backgrounds

These of course are generalizations that differ from person to person. This article also suggests that these traits are based on western educated learners and do not always apply across different cultures. It highlights that in some classrooms around the world, disagreements are not tolerated and learning is teacher-centered, which differs from the autonomy in western students. In some places, knowledge is communal and to be shared, unlike the western individualistic model. As well, in some cultures where women have lower status, they discouraged from speaking up as students.

A Tibetan language class at the Lhasa Experimental Primary School with a communist Chinese flag in the classroom
From the

I will keep these in mind when designing my future classroom. I will create a classroom atmosphere based on respect and it being learner-centred, rather than it being teacher-centred and full of hierarchy. This could be done by asking for examples from the learners’ experiences to use as problems to work through. Instead of giving answers, the class could break into groups and comes up with the answers from their own “inner textbooks”. I would attempt to facilitate groups coming up with their own answers, rather than giving information.

Another example would be to set up the learning experiences to be self-directed. I could get the students to set their own goals and complete a learning contract. Self-reflection would be part of the experience.

Retrieved from





One thought on “Characteristics of Adult Learners

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s