IN the last Exploring English column, the global problem of adult illiteracy was highlighted.
This week, the objective is to impart knowledge that will encourage those bearing the task of teaching adults with English language impairments to review their teaching methodology.
It will also reinforce the importance of giving due cognisance to the different ways adults learn, especially those with low literacy skills.
Understanding how people learn and how teaching, tutoring and training methods impede or facilitate that process is the key to maximising the effectiveness of any learning or training session.
In the case of impaired adults, the challenge is even greater because unlike learners in a normal education system, adult learners do not usually have to be present at the session.
There is no compulsion to attend and they often need to be convinced that what they are doing is definitely to their personal benefit.
Free and easy: An informal study environment is good for adult learners. —File photo
These 12 recommendations are based on the Adult Teaching module used when conducting Certificate IV courses in Teaching English To Speakers Of Other Languages (TESOL) in South-East Asia.
1. Adults must want to learn. To get adults to participate in English language programmes, they need to have a strong personal motivation and willingness to gain new skills or acquire particular knowledge.
2. Adults prefer to learn what is practical and beneficial. They have a mindset when it comes to learning anything.
They think along the lines of “How will this help me with what I am doing right now?” and “How am I going to personally gain from learning these things at my age?”
3. Adults learn by doing. Active participation and hands-on involvement in the learning process is a characteristic of adult-learning.
Retention can be increased when adult learners have the opportunity to practice or use what they have learned.
4. Adult learners like to know “Why”. Most adults query and question.
They like to know “why” something applies in a situation. They should not just be expected to accept what they are being taught.
They like to be told about any “rules” that may apply and have them explained to them in logical terms.
5. Adults are problem solvers. Many adults learn faster when a “problem” — “solution” approach is used for teaching English concepts, especially in the area of grammar.
To this end, common “problem” errors in speech and writing can be examined and the adult learners can be given the task to work out the “solution”.
6. Adults draw on their past. When faced with specific problems, adult learners draw on their past experiences to work out practical solutions.
7. Adult learning is affected by “experiences”. The major difference between adults and children as learners is that adults have had many life experiences.
This can turn out to be an asset or a liability. Negative feelings or failure attached to past experiences may hamper new learning.
8. Adults learn best in an informal environment. Many adults have unpleasant memories of school days.
They will respond to adult education programmes if the learning “environment” does not remind them of their negative, childhood, school day experiences.
9. Adult teaching requires a variety of methods and strategies.These strategies need to be adapted to suit their learning goals.
If the main purpose is to impart information, the most efficient method would be to carry out a different version of the lecture.
If the purpose is to bring about change in the conduct, behaviour, attitudes or ideas of the learner, then the learner must be involved actively in the process.
10. Adults want guidance, not grades. Competition, such as grading, can have a negative effect on adult learning.
At the same time, adult learners are always keen to know how they are doing and if what they are doing is “right”.
11. Adults know if they are achieving. They know whether their performance has measured up to their goals.
They don’t like false praise or flattery.
Adult learners should be encouraged to measure their own progress or work on teams that can compare each other’s progress.
12. Adults need to believe they can “do it”. Negative past education experiences linger on and in a new learning situation, adult learners need to be convinced that they can “do it”.
Implementing these 12 points is not a panacea to the problem education systems face in attracting illiterate adult learners but experience has shown that acknowledging them in a positive way will make the task much easier.
More importantly, adult learners must be treated as adults, not as kids!
Keith Wright is the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English.
The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Programme (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English proficiency of people with different competency levels. E-mail contact@4Sliteracy.com.au for a free copy of the PDF charts on Teaching Methodologies.