Posted October 30, 2012 by Scarlett Winters 

Best Practices for Facilitating Adult Learners

Those of us who work with young people regularly develop teaching and facilitation habits centered around the needs of this age group. The challenge comes when we are faced with presenting to or working with our peers or other adult learners (defined as 25 and older). The tactics often employed with younger populations tend to bore adults at best and offend them at worst. Because of the growing trend of non-traditional students enrolling in higher education, it’s likely that the demographics of the students you are working with is changing, and will continue to in coming years.

The information below provides some basic information about how adults learn best and what best practices you might employ when presenting to or facilitating adults:

  • Adults learn best by doing.
  • Adults learn best in an informal atmosphere that does not resemble formal schooling.
  • Adults learn best when information engages multiple sensory inputs (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc.).
  • Adults want support, not scores. Provide clear standards and constructive feedback.
  • Adults prefer to participate in curriculum development, when possible. Give multiple options for achieving objectives.
  • Adults do not appreciate trick questions. Make it practical!
  • Adults learn best when information is layered. For example, presenting the concept, providing examples and non-examples, allowing plenty of practice time.
  • Adults learn best when they know their learning style and how to use it to their advantage.
  • Adults learn best when education is learner-centered.
  • Adults learn best when they know why they need to learn what you are teaching.
  • Adults learn best when they are treated like adults, when their life experience is appreciated.
  • Adults learn best when what they are learning can be related to real-life—life-centered education, not subject-centered education.
  • Adults are responsive to intrinsic motivators, such as quality of life, job satisfaction, etc.
  • Adults are diverse. Make your presentation accessible by keeping different cultures and abilities in mind.

Used to put together this list of practices, here are some resources worth exploring to learn more about adult education: Best Practices in Learning from the Benchmark Institute; Best Practices in Adult and Continuing Education from the All Things Adult Education Wikibook; and the book The Profession and Practice of Adult Education: An Introduction.

In what ways have you used some of these strategies? Do you have other advice for working with adult students in your unions and activities?

Scarlett Winters

Scarlett Winters is the Online Engagement Specialist at ACUI.

Scarlett serves as liaison to the ACUI communities of practice and Online Learning Team, and is librarian for The Exchange digital resource library. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in instructional systems technology from Indiana University.


This is the thrid post of yours that I have read and loved! Some of the practices you gave would also work with some of my first year students. Thank you!
Comment posted 04/27/2014 10:44 PM
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