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5 Ways to Engage Adult Learners for Success in Higher Education

September 16, 2019


Adult learners have much more on their plates than “traditional” students – and though some teaching techniques apply to both sets of learners, for the modern adult learner, time is valuable and their expectations for their educational goals are high. Another thing to keep in mind is that today’s adult learners include millennials, so understanding how this generation thrives academically is also key to providing a great learning experience. Keeping that particular group engaged and happy with their experience is imperative to your educational offerings. Here are some ways to keep adult learners engaged and happy with their educational experiences:

Stay Relevant

One of the top ways to keep adult learners engaged is to stay relevant. Because adult learners often have other commitments that they must make time for, such as work life, family life or other commitments in their community, it’s important to stay on topic as much as possible, making the time they spend on their educational work count. They need to know that a class or training will help them meet their personal, educational, or career goals. Discussions should be engaging but also relevant to the coursework. It’s not only important to stay relevant, but also to explain why things are relevant. Let your students know the purpose of your lessons using real-world examples that they can relate to.

Beware of Cognitive Overload

Cognitive overload happens when too much information is given to a learner at once and the learner is not able to process the information effectively. Some ways to avoid cognitive overload are breaking information into smaller, bite-sized chunks – people get much of their information through social media now and it’s often presented that way. Also, simplify the visual layout of materials using white space, smaller blocks of text, and simple graphs or images that are relevant to the topic at hand. Allow your learners a reprieve every so often – this will give their brain a much-needed break so they can have a chance to take in and process the information.

Offer Immediate Feedback

Real-time feedback is critical, in both academic and professional settings. Studies have shown that new generations in the workplace value ongoing feedback. In academic and professional settings alike, it’s significantly beneficial to provide timely feedback. It’s key to give feedback in the moment so that examples can be drawn upon. Providing prompt feedback also helps students learn from mistakes, see what they need to improve, and act upon it immediately.

Related: Feedback In The Workplace: Reflections For A Positive Impact

Optimize Your Testing Experience

Adult learners may not have taken a test in a while. Providing study guides is a great way to help them prepare. Also, it’s a good idea to offer a practice test so they can shake those nerves out and, if applicable (your test is offered online), acclimate to the technology, including how to navigate whatever platform you use. 

A secure remote proctoring offering can also provide a more convenient way for students to take their exams by increasing flexibility. It's a great way to consider students' lifestyle needs. 

Be Tech-forward

Tech-savvy millennials are now in their mid-20s to late 30s. To keep their interest in the learning environment they need to be able to access their curriculum, assignments, and other aspects of their education on-demand anytime and anyplace. Mix up the methods of content delivery: use podcasts, videos, or interactive quizzes.

If you’re not already using digital badging, this is a great way to appeal to today’s adult learner. Digital bagding allows students to showcase their skills, educational and professional credentials, and accomplishments across the web through their social and professional networks, email signatures, and websites. Plus, there’s an added bonus here: having a digital badging program can help to simultaneously advertise your institution’s programs. 

While there are many benefits to offering a tech-forward learning environment, it’s important to appeal to older students who may not be as tech-savvy, too. Having a user-friendly mobile app and using those apps (or other social media outlets) for student collaboration – discussions, group projects, etc. – will also help keep both of these audiences engaged in their education and encourage dialogue.

tipsheet download 8 ways to create a student centered online proctoring program

Mark Musacchio Mark Musacchio is Senior Director of Sales, PSI Education. For the past twelve years, Mark has worked with countless educators in higher education and certification organizations to help them with their assessment challenges. With a focus on customer experience, he works closely with senior leadership and account management to ensure quality and excellence throughout the customer lifecycle.