Characteristics of Adult Learners

According to our course textbook (Merriam, 2014), the adult learner is self-directed, brings a reservoir of experience to the classroom, sees learning as a development task in their life, wants the learning to be applicable in the present rather than in a distant future, is problem-centered and needs to know the ‘why’.

A similar list appears in the article “8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners”. Pappas (2013) states that adult learners are characterized by “maturity, self-confidence, autonomy, solid decision-making, and are generally more practical, multi-tasking, purposeful, self-directed, experienced, and less open-minded and receptive to change.”

The students that I teach are busy and highly-technical professionals who seek an undergraduate Management of Technology education so they can move into management ranks. They come to evening class after a long day at work. Many juggle families while going through our degree program. They are practical people, they want immediate feedback on assignments and class discussions, and they want the course materials to be relevant to their work, and to their field.

I have adapted my courses to include in-class discussions of real-life situations. I create a safe place during my classes, where ‘what is discussed in the classroom stays in the classroom’. During our management of technology courses we discuss technology decisions (good and bad), project management (successful and spectacularly disastrous), we discuss issues of organizational behaviour, traditional and online marketing, international sales and channel strategies. We analyze situations that we have experienced, and review how these issues were resolved. I find that discussing real problems engages students far more than reading about an unfamiliar company in a quickly outdated textbook.

I provide my students with articles to read from current journals, and ask them to analyze cases from recent events with impromptu group presentations in class. I prefer this approach rather than “let’s now turn to page 57 to review the structure of a matrix organization”. By involving my students in discussion and analysis of current events, I draw them to the present, I engage them in analysis and summary of key factors, and encourage them to learn not only from me, but also from one another. My students dislike instructional, PowerPoint-heavy lectures as much as I did when I was sitting in grad school. I like to mix up techniques in the classroom to engage my learners and ensure that students come away from my evening classes with new stories and new ideas that they can apply to their next real-world project.

Flipped Classroom
Flipped Learning Design Workshop (Vanguard Visions) CC Generic


Merriam, S., & Bierema, L. (2014). Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons

Pappas, C. (2013). “8 Important Characteristics of Adult Learners”. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from

Characteristics of Adult Learners

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