At Tutor Portland, we know what it’s like to be an adult learner. Tutor Portland was founded by Eric M Earle. Eric went back to school as an adult learner. He had struggled with math and chemistry his entire life. But as an adult student, Mr. Earle had developed strengths, skills, and a newfound attitude. He was motivated. And he was able to focus for long periods of time. These skills both allowed and positioned him to thrive.
Along the way, Eric realized that adult students and “post-graduates” were some of the best students he ran into. He started digging into it, and he indeed found research showing that “post-bac” students out-perform undergraduates in math and science courses. Adult learners have a big advantage in college courses. In addition, some learners aren’t in formal programs. They just want to learn!
Our tutors love adult learners because they are usually more focused. We are well-versed with adult learners. We believe that there are a few key elements to teaching adults:
- Active Learning — All students learn best in active learning programs. However, adults are specifically poised to benefit from these types of programs because they come to each session motivated and ready to learn. They are more likely to engage with the tutor and ask the right type of questions.
- Alignment — Adults like to see how what they are learning aligns with their life and goals. The majority of adult learners are more focused on goals. They want to see that what they are doing aligns with their life purpose and mission.
- Life Experience — It is important to frame the learning in terms of the learner’s background. Often a number of core concepts can be explained in terms of a hobby, prior career, or another field of knowledge.
- Strategic Feedback — Adults can handle feedback because they have a higher degree of maturity than younger learners. Feedback that focuses on specific strategic improvements is often most fruitful. Adults make the biggest gains in learning when they focus on shifting their strategy. Getting 5% better in this area will make huge differences.
- Problem-Focused — Adults do best when they can start quickly implementing what they learn. It is therefore important to tell adults how they can apply the concepts to their life.
- Growth Mindset — Learning about the growth mindset is really important. Adults will more readily understand and apply this idea. The growth mindset is about believing that our skills and abilities aren’t fixed. We can grow. We can improve. We can change. People who have “fixed” mindsets believe that their skills are really talents which are fixed in place.
- Collaborative Environment — Research shows that adults work well with interactive learning strategies (Scherling, 2011). Collaborative learning is great because it gets everyone involved. A lot of the most powerful learning here comes from the student herself. We ask students to explain their thinking behind core concepts. It is the process of explaining their thinking, that they make distinctions which help them learn.