After a refreshing summer break, which included professional development and time to reflect on the mistakes and successes of the last academic year, the start of a new semester is, at least for me, an exciting time.
One of my goals for the summer was to think about the changes and additions I could make to my upcoming classes. I heard some great ideas, read some exceptional reports, and pondered which approaches and techniques would be of most value to my students. Some of the best ideas were not in my content area, but served as a great refresher to how I think about myself as an instructor, and how I perceive my students.
I reviewed a great text for a new class and found inspiration and ideas for dealing with adult learners. The text, Adult Learning Methods: A Guide for Effective Instruction, provided some valuable insight to me concerning my adult population. Some of the ideas deal with strategies for instruction and others on recognizing the differences in my own and my students learning styles. The ones that particularly stick in my mind have to do with the reasons adults come to class – whether they are 18 or 60, they come for a very diverse set of reasons.
Whether you teach a general education requirement or in a specific professional program, it is important to recognize the reasons these students are in your class. Are they wanting a better life, are they there for the love of learning, or are they in your class because it is required for them to get where they perceive they want to go? Motives may differ between age groups, between genders, and between you and your students. All of your students have their own valid reasons for being there, and it is important to recognize that the reasons don’t change the value of your instruction or their learning.
All of this reflects back on your philosophy of teaching, an important component as to why you are a teacher of adults. Does your philosophy help you reflect on what is important to you and help you articulate that to your students? It is important to reflect on your philosophy each and every year. Has it changed? Does the philosophy that you wrote for that tenure notebook still reflect how you feel about teaching and learning? The more time I spend with adult learners, the more I recognize that I learn in different ways than my students, and that the things I value in a course or program may be very different from them. It doesn’t make my philosophy wrong, but neither is theirs. It only makes them different and it is important to articulate that I respect both.
The last part that struck home with me was the importance of recognizing learning styles in my adult learners. I am a concrete, sequential learner and that is how I design my courses. It works well for the majority of my learners. It is the nature of my content and instructional design. However, there are always a few that don’t respond to my instructional design, either dropping out or stopping out of class after a few sessions. I’ve come to realize that I need to be open to making some changes — whether trying to work with some different instructional methods to retain those learners, or being much more clear in the nature of the design. The text gives some great ideas, such as learning contracts, and utilizing technology that may excite those other learning styles.
All in all, the summer was a good time to revisit these issues. With the Fall courses just beginning I now have the opportunity to implement these ideas on how to add a spark to my courses, better understand the new students in my courses and program, and perhaps continue to learn even more about myself. And that’s the whole purpose of a summer refresher.
Galbraith, Michael W., Adult learning methods: A guide for effective instruction, Third Edition, Krieger Publishing Co., Malabar, FL, 2004.
Dr. Vickie Kelly is program director and assistant professor of technology administration at Washburn University.