Adult Learner

Systems Change
Adult Learner > Strategies

Adult Learner

Select one or more factors to see the strategies that support your chosen factor(s). For each strategy, we provide ideas for how to use it in your learning environment and further resources.


Accessible Vocabulary & Syntax

Using language that is accessible and appropriately leveled for each student allows all learners to feel successful and participate in learning.


When annotating, learners engage deeply with a text and make their thinking visible while reading, which supports Foundational Reading Skills.


Audiobooks allow learners to hear fluent reading and experience books in a flexible format.

Authentic Audiences & Purposes

When adults can connect and communicate with authentic audiences about their interests and values, learning becomes more personally meaningful and relevant.

Case Studies/Case-based Learning

Case studies support authentic, active learning experiences centered around real world situations that present an account of a particular set of circumstances for learners to engage with.

Clear Structure & Presentation

When designing instruction for adults, expectations and goals should be clearly outlined to help learners focus on the material and make plans for success.

Communities of Practice

Adult learners can self-organize into groups called communities of practice to engage in longer-term examination of a topic to build deeper understanding.

Competency-based Learning & Assessment

Competency-based learning is self-paced, focused on mastery, and centered around demonstrating learning outcomes and skills rather than where or how they were attained.

Creating Visual Representations

When learners process and express information visually, they are activating more cognitive processes while Problem Solving.

Cultural & Life Experiences Connections

Understanding adults' lived experiences and cultural backgrounds and connecting them to instructional practices helps all learners feel like valued members of the community.

Direct Instruction: Computer Basics

In an increasingly digital world, adults who struggle with using technology can benefit from direct instruction for an array of digital tools.

Direct Instruction: Internet Search

Teaching learners how to effectively search the internet is critical for helping them learn how to find accurate and relevant information and aids in developing information literacy.

Direct Instruction: Math Strategies

Direct instruction in math strategies may support some adult learners once conceptual understanding is in place.

Direct Instruction: Online Reading Strategies

Research shows that, along with traditional reading comprehension strategies, learners use unique strategies to read the non-linear, hyperlinked structure of online texts.

Direct Instruction: Phonics

Adult learners who are struggling with Foundational Reading Skills, including decoding and phonemic awareness, can benefit from explicitly learning phonics skills in an educational setting.

Direct Instruction: Vocabulary

Seeing and using new words repeatedly and across contexts is critical for vocabulary acquisition.

Error Analysis

Analyzing errors is especially beneficial in helping learners develop a Learner Mindset and critical thinking skills, which are a component of Problem Solving.

Evaluating Sources

Supporting adult learners to systematically evaluate sources prepares them to navigate information in an increasingly complex, digital world.

Expanding Social Networks

Networking and supporting adult learners in expanding social networks provide access to additional resources and Social Supports, which can impact their trajectory and Motivation.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is learning by doing, which may include self-directed learning activities.

Foster Growth Mindset

When adults are aware that learning involves effort, mistakes, reflection, and refinement of strategies, they are more resilient when they struggle.

Game-based Learning

Game-based learning is an active learning experience with clear objectives and measurable outcomes designed to be intrinsically game-like.

Graphic Organizers

Visualizing how ideas fit together helps learners construct meaning and strengthens their recall.

Guided Practice

Opportunities for students to practice skills in context, with instructor support and also independently, helps to move concepts and ideas into Long-term Memory.

Handouts/Online Guides/Visual Reading Aids

Visual reading aids, such as handouts and online guides, help learners to maintain Attention and serve to support the learning process.

Immediate Feedback

Immediate feedback can improve a learner's confidence, self-awareness and enthusiasm for learning, which leads to increased Motivation.

Instructor Accessibility

Adult learners benefit from knowing there is an instructor available to provide support as needed, especially during asynchronous learning.


Journaling allows learners to reflect on their thinking and feelings, process their learning, and connect new information to what they know and their practical experiences.

Learner Choice

Intentionally incorporating voice and choice into adult learning experiences is critical for making learning meaningful and relevant.

Metaphors & Analogies

Metaphors and analogies can support learners by helping to form connections and to notice patterns and similarities that promote learning, self-concept, and higher order thinking.

Mindfulness Activities

Mindfulness is a practice to create internal balance and a sense of being present in the moment.

Mnemonic Device

Creating patterns through mnemonic devices, such as acronyms, categorizing items, visual images, or rhyming, supports the development of memories, including learned content knowledge.

Multimedia Projects

For adults, the Composition process can become more robust when learners can express ideas through multiple media, which includes visual, audio, and digital production.

Multimodal Instruction

Instruction and training presented in multiple formats allows learners to activate different cognitive skills and Background Knowledge that are necessary to remember procedural and content information.

Peer Discussion

Learning in social contexts has been shown to have significant effects on comprehension of material and retention of new information into Long-term Memory.

Peer Feedback/Peer Review

When learners provide constructive feedback on each other's work, they reflect on their own understanding, learn to give relevant suggestions, receive specific ways to improve, and engage in Metacognition.

Peer Mentoring/Coaching

Giving learners the opportunity to share their knowledge, skills, and understanding with their peers strengthens learning and increases Motivation while also building Social Supports.

Perspective Taking/Multiple Perspectives

Understanding that different individuals may experience and view the same event differently is a higher level cognitive skill that develops in adolescence and throughout adulthood.

Physical Activity

Making space and time for physical activity, through brief movement breaks in the classroom or workplace and incorporating it into daily life, has benefits for the body and mind.

Pre-reading Questioning

When instructors ask questions or have learners create questions before introducing a text, they activate interest, increase Motivation, and help them assess what they already know about a given topic.

Problem-based Learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a learner-centered multidisciplinary approach focused on real world applications using active learning methods.

Process-based Writing

When teaching Composition, focusing on the process is often helpful to learners as they begin to tackle more nuanced and complex writing tasks.

Purposeful Reflection

Reflection can take place throughout learning, supporting critical thinking and Problem Solving skills when learners actively question assumptions, and after learning experiences to support Metacognition.

Quiet Learning Spaces

Creating a quiet space free of distractions is critical for adults to be able to focus on learning.

Real-world Math

When instructors are able to provide context, and connect math concepts to an adult learner's world, math can be seen as relevant and applicable to their daily lives and work- a core aspect of adult Numeracy.


When adults monitor their comprehension, performance, and use of strategies when learning they become more invested in their work, build their Metacognition, and actively participate in the process.

Simulations & Immersive Virtual Environments

Simulations and immersive virtual environments provide authentic learning at a level that can spark curiosity and deeper understanding by engaging multiple senses in exploration.

Spaced Learning

Learning and studying information across multiple sessions that are spaced, or distributed in time, can promote learning and long-term retention of both basic and conceptually complex facts and concepts.


Speech-to-text takes the input from voice recognition and produces text.

Text Chats

Bringing learners' everyday literacy practices such as text chats into instruction provides regular, low-stakes practice communicating with authentic audiences.


Text-to-speech technology reads the words on a screen aloud.

Worked Examples

Analyzing and discussing solutions to problems helps students develop a deeper understanding of Problem Solving processes and Numeracy skills.

Adult Learner

Adults need a variety of 21st-century foundational skills to survive and thrive.

Digital Literacy and Oral Communication Skills are critical to pursuing opportunities in the workforce and everyday life.

  • Collaborative strategies such as peer feedback can strengthen learners’ content knowledge as well as interpersonal skills.

Problem Solving skills encompass both critical thinking and creativity, which allow adults to evaluate evidence and generate novel solutions.

  • Encouraging learners to use new technology and create multimedia projects builds confidence in these skills.

Adults must see the benefit of learning tasks to fully engage.

Adults are independent learners who may have complex reasons for setting and persisting at learning goals.

  • To maintain their Motivation in learning, addressing authentic scenarios and purposes allows them to see how new information can be used in the real world.

Adults bring many assets to their learning including extensive Background Knowledge, but they may not recognize the value of that knowledge.

Engaging in lifelong learning activities is interconnected with general well-being.

Having greater emotional, cognitive, and Physical Well-being can positively impact learning; in turn, engaging in learning can improve adults’ life satisfaction and outcomes such as income and social capital.

Adults can face barriers to learning stemming from their Socioeconomic Status, lack of Social Supports, or Adverse Experiences, including negative past experiences with schooling.

  • Building self-advocacy and metacognitive skills allows learners to understand their own learning process and what they need to succeed.


Adults must see the benefit of learning tasks to fully engage.

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Engaging in lifelong learning activities is interconnected with general well-being.

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Adults need a variety of 21st-century foundational skills to survive and thrive.

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