Different Skills Needed to Teach Those Over 35

When looking to educate any group, it pays to take into consideration demographics. Far and away the most important factor to consider will be age group—as you do not teach kindergartners the same way you teach high school students, you shouldn't assume that all adults learn the same way. Fortunately, the differences between age groups are merely that: differences, not difficulties. We'll discuss a few things to keep in mind when teaching adults over the age of 35 so you can emphasize their strengths, keep their attention, and avoid pitfalls.

Consider Student Experience
By this point in their lives, your students have a lot of life experience. They have years of experience in their careers and in the workforce in general and study with advancement in mind. Explaining to your class why you are teaching them a particular concept will keep them focused. Let them know how expertise in that subject will aid them in working more effectively and efficiently or make them more desirable for hire or promotion.

In addition to using their experience to keep them more focused than younger students, you can draw on the experience of individual students to enhance the learning process. Relating concepts to a student's life works well at any age—students over 35 have far more ways to relate to their coursework.

Keep Yourself Flexible
We hinted at this when we talked about implementing student experience into the learning process. That extensive life experience creates more variation among your students than you might see from younger students. Generally speaking, if you look at a group of 20-year-olds they will have led fairly similar lives so far. Look at a group of 40-year-olds and you'll see a very different picture. Some of these students are getting their online education degree because it is more flexible then going to a campus.

One-size-fits-all rarely works in teaching, but you'll need much more flexibility with older adult students than with any other group. Learn what you can about the academic and professional histories of your students and adapt accordingly--don't rely on a fixed plan. 

They're Adults—Engage Them as Adults
A single authority figure sitting at the front of a classroom works well enough for younger students. But such a power disparity will ill-fit a group of older adult students. This ties back into flexibility and consideration of the skills your students have developed over their lives. Let them interact with you as the teacher and their fellow students. Adults benefit from classes high in student participation and group work. Emulate a familiar environment, the workplace, and let the techniques they've developed there assist them in their learning.

You shouldn't think of this as walking on eggshells to avoid bruising egos and coming across as patronizing. This is another opportunity to let your students share and combine their strengths. Unlike younger students, older adults know what they can and can't do. They can tell you with accuracy what works best for them as a learner and as a worker. They can make suggestions for improving the learning process for students they've interacted with during participatory exercises.

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