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Adult Learner > Strategies > Building Empathy

Building Empathy


Developing empathy in educators and in learners is an iterative process that requires taking the time to understand and honor others' perspectives. Empathy is particularly important for adult learners as they may experience anxiety or apprehension in new learning environments. Empathetic concern encompasses educator behaviors that communicate a mutual sharing of emotions, feelings, or experiences with students. Learners who have trusting and empathetic relationships with educators show increased Motivation and academic performance. Educators can cultivate empathy for all learners through active listening, empathy interviews, and opportunities for apprenticeships and hands-on collaborative learning experiences. These methods help educators reflect on their own implicit bias and build trusting relationships with learners. Modeling methods of perspective taking and valuing learner feedback support the development of empathy between individuals, which can foster a Sense of Belonging, build Learner Mindset, and help mitigate Stereotype Threat.

Use It In Your Learning Environment

Educators should be acutely aware of creating an empathetic environment by facilitating discussions and getting to know learners through interactions. Educators can have learners introduce themselves and discuss their learning goals and work throughout the semester to check in on goals and create meaningful plans of achievement. These interactions can foster empathy in both the educator and the learner, and help to create an authentic, goal-based learning environment. Educators can also provide texts and resources that represent multiple perspectives so learners can engage with other perspectives while infusing their own experiences into their understanding. Exploring these perspectives collaboratively through discussion and role-based activities can help foster a sense of empathy in the classroom.

As many adults opt to take online courses, incorporating opportunities for face-to-face connection and collaborative workspaces can help increase empathy on digital learning platforms. Developers can support empathy by designing opportunities for learners and educators to practice empathy through problem solving and perspective taking. Incorporating aspects of digital citizenship, including etiquette and Social Awareness, that address responsible use of technology are other ways to promote empathy in product design.

Additional Resources

Additional examples, research, and professional development. These resources are possible representations of this strategy, not endorsements.

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