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Effective Online Methods to Teach Adult Learners

Teaching is a complex process, particularly when the learners are adults. Another complication is teaching in an online environment. It can be difficult to traverse the endless teaching methods out there, find the most effective ones to engage your adult learners, and deliver your objectives in an impactful way online.

As an educator, taking advantage of existing strategies and adopting them into your teaching style is vital. One of the positive things about teaching adults is their intrinsic desire to learn. This leaves an important question: How can you utilize online teaching methods to capitalize on this desire? Let’s explore important strategies that will benefit your learners and yourself.

Strategies to Teach Adult Learners Online

1. Make your content learner-centered.

Whether you are delivering an online lecture or providing an assignment, making it learner-centered is an effective method that will keep your students engaged and active. If an assignment is exploratory, and learners are encouraged to take their own journeys, they feel a sense of control and ownership over the content. For example, encourage your students to find resources that are relevant to the content. This sense of guided autonomy will stimulate their desire to learn.

2. Work in groups.

Group work may seem a little more difficult to organize in online teaching. However, it is not only possible but recommended. Social integration has been evidenced to be effective when it comes to retention. Small groups of learners can share and learn from their personal experiences and then go over the content in a relatable manner. You can find some examples for online, collaborative group tools here.

3. Have students use their own experiences.

Allowing your learners to relay their relevant life experiences is valuable. This strategy is particularly effective during online teaching as it can promote engagement through open-ended questions. Moreover, it can encourage learners to share their perspectives on certain topics. While some traditional teaching methods put more weight on the instructor’s knowledge, the benefit of having students learn from each other is undeniable. So, when teaching online, create opportunities for students to share their experiences and participate in discussions.

4. Make your intentions clear.

It is important to remember that adult learners expect clarity. During your first session, explain how the content is relevant to them, what they will gain from it, and what they can expect throughout the process. One of the key factors to keep in mind is engagement. When your learners recognize your intentions and form a clear picture of what to expect, you will be off to a meaningful start.

More Online Strategies for Teaching Adult Learners

5. Take advantage of scaffolding.

Everyone processes online content differently. Therefore, it is integral that your teaching methods accommodate the diverse needs of your learners. Scaffolding, based on the work of psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s research in cognitive development, can help empower your students to progress on their own. Scaffolding can also help you understand what the learner cannot do, what they can do with assistance and what they can do unaided. Follow this link to have a look at some successful scaffolding strategies in online learning.

6. Demonstrate your passion through your online teaching methods.

Adult learners can easily identify authenticity. Your mindset towards the content, and how you deliver it, will be the decider as to whether your students gain the most from your teaching or not. If you care about the subject you deliver, then your students will also care. Once your passion is embedded within your online teaching methods, you can focus on the more technical aspects of delivering content to your adult learners.

7. Tell stories.

Integrating stories into your teaching can be a surprisingly powerful tool. As mentioned before, engagement is one of the most pivotal aspects of online teaching. Storytelling is a great way to forge connections with your students, breaking up the learning by offering a sense of relatability and common ground. When you have built that level of trust, your learners will be more receptive to you and your teaching methods.

8. Be creative!

With online teaching, creativity will be one of your most powerful allies. Using various learning styles will enhance the interactivity of your content and boost learners’ engagement. Implement visual learning into your online teaching methods, using digital media such as videos, images, diagrams and graphics. Using a range of teaching styles that promote the interactive, practical nature of the content will assist your students’ retention and kindle their interest.

In Sum: Be True to Your Teaching Style

Ultimately, using these online teaching methods as a definite be-all and end-all will only take you so far. Remember the reason you decided to teach in the first place, and remain authentic towards your personal pedagogy. If something does not go quite to plan, remain calm and keep in mind that, particularly with adult students, you can switch between your more “serious” side and your “fun” side. Offer the platform for learners to exchange ideas amongst themselves, and think of some activities that can ease the atmosphere.

Carl Rogers said it best:

The purpose of adult education is to help them to learn, not to teach them all you know and thus stop them from learning.

Ensuring you allow exploratory online learning in an engaging way will help you gain the most for yourself and your adult learners.

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