Published on 2012/02/09

Overcoming The Engagement Hurdle
Adult students can bring a range of unique hurdles which educators must clear to successfully engage them. Photo by Alastair Duncan.

It is difficult to say which might be the biggest hurdle in getting stakeholder to engage in their learning in meaningful ways because it may be different from context to context and individual to individual.

You see everyone bring everything about them to the learning environment and some of these attributes may be more temporary than others. In some cases these attributes may launch some persons forward while stalling others. It is never clear what learners will bring that will influence their learning (good, bad or indifferent) and which day they will bring it to the learning environment, so the key is to really humanize the learning environment and process by getting to know who the learners are and what they bring or might bring to the learning environment and find ways to incorporate some of what learners bring to facilitate the teaching and learning process.

The key is to check-in with learners (needs assessment) to see what the vulnerabilities are and how these can be mitigated by leveraging the strengths they possess and what the facilitator bring to that space. No two learners are alike so it is important for facilitators to acknowledge this peculiarity and leverage this knowledge in relating to students in their teaching and learning endeavors.

Having said this, it is important to recognize that most workplace learners/clients are adults—working adults—and this attribute, in of itself, carries with it some unique concerns. Adult learners are unique in that they are very different than any other type learner and this has to be a factor in any learning situation along with the issues of diversity, learning preferences/style, prior learning, gaps in learning, time-span of last learning experience, and overt and less pronounced cultural differences.

Many times adult learners bring their own well-packaged fears and until the facilitator can get into that package, you can’t really help learners get to the place where learning can happen and new knowledge, skills and abilities can be transferred to current and future work until learners can be helped in resolving some of these challenges. One of the most profound challenges I found with adult learners is that they are reluctant to try for fear of failing. Many times, learners have not been challenged in a formal learning environment so it can be a frightening learning experience for them. This fear can be massed in all kinds of resistance and sometime downright dysfunctional behavior (don’t want to or don’t feel like; I can’t do it; surfaced learning; tardiness; the victim’s posture; tired; tardiness; facilitator’s ‘pet’ and many others). I would think that getting to know students and determining where they fall on the continuum of their readiness for learning is a real important step in the teaching and learning process.

This knowledge empowers facilitators by providing insight for leveraging the resources they possess in the current space and seeking out other resources they may need to aid learners in healthy ways to achieve the objectives before them.

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Readers Comments

Yancy Oshita 2012/02/09 at 7:43 am

Earl’s message that “Adult learners are unique in that they are very different than any other type learner….” needs to be recognized with institutional investment not just in different teaching and learning approaches/pedagogy, but in how schools engage, enroll and cultivate adult learners, particularly if we are to make a dent in the country’s woeful educational standing with our adult population. Thanks Earl!

Frank Palatnick 2012/03/15 at 2:39 pm

I agree wholeheartedly. We need to understand the student. We need to ‘ read the book ‘ based on the slogan ‘ Don’t judge a book by its cover ‘. How can we guide that student on his/her learning journey without knowing what that persons understandings are. For instance, in a geometry class, a teacher can, for the first week, have a short conversation with each student to find out about his background. Assuming the teacher finds out that some students like baseball. He asks those students to draw a baseball diamond on a piece of paper and asks them to describe the shape that is caused by the meeting of the first baseline and the second baseline. Obviously the answer will be a triangle. That practice has just motivated those students by using what they know and like to do. Using the other students in the classes backgrounds you can find how to segway there understanding to help. Them understand the concept/s being posed.

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