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Characteristics of adult learners and their expectations related to educators


Adult learners vary significantly from child learners and that is why it is important to make sure that teachers and educators not only are well-equipped in the terms of the tools and methods that they employ during their classes to work with both groups but also that they know the characteristics of each group in question to facilitate the teacher-student cooperation and understanding. Since adult educators come to class with certain expectations concerning the lessons and the educators, in this article we will focus on the characteristics of adult learners and the desirable qualities in educators.

Ryerson University points out the following characteristics, claiming that adult learners are: selective and problem-centered, which means that they will only learn things that they view as important and useful; self-directed, which means – as explained by Malcolm Knowles – that they are able to set their goals, collect material, and assess their progress by themselves. Moreover, it is also crucial to remember that adult learners are not the so-called “white canvases,” which means that contrarily to child learners, they come to the class with all of the previously-gathered experiences related to the class environment. That is why, experts from RIT On-line Learning emphasise that adult learners might be often sceptical in class, thus, they might not accept new pieces of information as a fact immediately since they hold their own perceptions about the world. Ryerson University puts emphasis on the fact that adult learners might return to school with emotions that affected them during their school years such as anxiety or low self-esteem. As pointed out by All Education Schools, adult learners, who dropped out from school before completing their basic education, might need educator’s reassurance to regain confidence. What is more, it is important to mention that adult learners, although they are more motivated, they learn at a slower pace and they need more time to process information. However, the most important difference between adult and child learners lies in the fact that the first group of learners attend classes voluntarily which means that upon dissatisfaction with the lessons due to either the teacher’s incompetency or the curriculum itself, they will simply drop out.

As claimed by Kaja Kosec, “(…) education is a profession in which the educator's character plays a central role.” Therefore, Ryerson University also mentions the characteristics of teachers that are of great importance when working with adult learners. Hence, the things that matter in the teacher’s profile are the following: “teaching competencies, relationships with students, and teacher attitudes.”

Not only does the first characteristic (teaching competencies) denote using material that is up-to-date and based on evidence but also creating lesson plans that are abundant with various techniques and stimulating discussions. Moreover, Ryerson University puts emphasis on the fact that adult learners have no patience for unprofessional behaviour which, for instance, includes conducting classes without prior preparation. When it comes to the second characteristic (relationships with students), it is said that adult learners value flexibility and approachability in educators, especially when it comes to aspects such as activities or deadlines. Adult learners have responsibilities that go beyond the ones of the classroom so it is vital that educators adjust to the expectations and demands of the learners. Last but not least, when it comes to the third quality (teacher attitudes), adult learners value teachers who can be described as enthusiastic and who treat the students as both knowledgeable and intelligent.

Knowing the general characteristics of adult learners ensures better understanding as well as being aware of the desirable qualities in educators ensures general satisfaction. The information included in the article might be worth taking into consideration when preparing the lesson plan for the upcoming class.


“Adult Education Teacher Education Paths,” All Education Schools, accessed from

“A good adult educator,” EPALE, accessed from

“Characteristics of Adult Learners,” accessed from

“Engaging Adult Learners,” Ryerson University,

“8 Important Characteristics Of Adult Learners,” eLearning Industry, accessed from

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