What do you need to know about your learners in order to provide them with the kind of support they need? For adults, learning is a different ball game relative to children. They possess some peculiarities that distinguish their approach to learning from the young people. They want to be in touch with realities and have their needs met. Instructors of Adult Learners must be full of empathy, understand how adults view the world and demonstrate strong spirit of leadership and be ready to provide reasonable support to their adult learners in both synchronous and asynchronous modes.

Peculiarities of the Adult Learners you should know.
According to Brookfield (1986), adult learners have the following nine peculiarities:

  1. Adults maintain the ability to learn.
  2. Adults are a highly diversified group of individuals with widely differing preferences, needs, backgrounds, and skills.
  3. Adults experience a gradual decline in physical and sensory capabilities.
  4. The learner’s experience is a major resource in learning situations.
  5. Self-concept moves from dependence to independence as individuals grow in responsibilities, experience, and confidence.
  6. Adults tend to be life-centred in their orientation to learning.
  7. Adults are motivated to learn by a variety of factors.
  8. Active learner participation in the learning process contributes to learning.
  9. A comfortable, supportive environment is a key to successful learning.

Implications of Adult Peculiarities for the ODL Educators and Instructors
It is important to realise that adults’ past experiences of learning may act against them as well as acting in their favour.  For many adult learners, their previous education was marked by lack of success, exclusion, and frustration.  Therefore coming back to studying as an adult can be a daunting task. As an ODL educator, therefore, you should bear in mind this reality, and be prepared to practically help adult learners taking your course or lesson to overcome their past frustrations, make learning activities memorable and make room for their initial passivity.

In addition, as adults, learners generally have more commitments than do children, and the place studying takes in their lives is therefore quite different.  This can be a positive factor, in that it enables some adult learners to keep the stresses of studying in better perspective; or a negative factor, in that studying must compete with essential life maintenance activities such as keeping a family, growing food, holding down a job, and finding enough money to get by on. This calls for the ODL educator’s empathy in relating with the adult learners. Rooms must be given to their essential life activities especially when planning a course. Take advantage of their tendencies to demonstrate strong commitment to learning through reasonably challenging tasks, real life problems and appealing to their work – life strengths and experiences.

Learner Support in Open and Distance Learning. The Commonwealth of Learning and Asian Development Bank. © The Commonwealth of Learning (1999).