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Characteristics of Adult Learners

Learning as an adult differs from learning as a child. Consider how the following information might be useful to you when planning and delivering lessons:

Most children perceive one of their major roles in life to be that of learner. Adults perceive themselves to be doers-using previous learning to achieve success as workers, parents, etc.
Children actually perceive time differently than older people do; time seems to pass more quickly as we get older. Adults are concerned about the effective use of time.
Children have a limited experience base. Adults have a broad, rich experience base.
Children generally learn quickly. Adults usually learn more slowly than children, but they learn just as well.
Children are open to new information and will readily adjust their views. Adults are much more likely to reject or explain away new information that contradicts their beliefs.
Children's readiness to learn is linked to both academic development and biological development. Adults' readiness to learn is more directly linked to needs related to their roles as workers, spouses, parents, etc.
Children learn (at least in part) because learning will be of use in the future. Adults are more concerned about the immediate applicability of learning.
Children are often externally motivated (by the promise of good grades, praise from teachers and parents, etc.) Adults are more often internally motivated (by the potential for feelings of worth, self-esteem, achievement, etc.)
Children have less-well-formed sets of expectations in terms of formal learning experiences. Their "filter" of past experience is smaller than that of adults. Adults have well-formed expectations, which, unfortunately, are sometimes negative because they are based upon unpleasant past formal learning experiences.
The above list is adapted from "Plan instruction for adults, Module N-4," The National Center for Research in Vocational Education.
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