Teaching Older Adults
It is never too late to learn and it’s never too late for older adults to acquire and build on new information. With the rise of the number of older adults returning to class, educators have come to realize that older adult students are basically different from young and adult students in several ways. Figuring out how to reach to these students has become a daunting task with many educators left to make up what is necessary or what can work for the elderly students. Elderly adult students often come to class with totally different demands, challenges, expectations, and to make matters complicated, a higher or different level of maturity. Educators, therefore, have to go back to the drawing board to analyze and try to figure out what exactly can work for the elderly students and what can’t work. Although many institutions have successful strategies towards older adult education, many centers of learning are still groping and analyzing some of the most practical approaches to apply and use. This paper examines some of the teaching strategies meant for older adult education.
What is Older Adult Education?
Literally, older adult education is about gathering knowledge of essential literacy to individual fulfillment as a learner to the achievement of the highest level of education possible. It is whereby, adults beyond the age of 50 get into the school system to accumulate knowledge on the basics of life, course, or branch of a particular study (Merriam & Brockett 2011). It is a systematic self-initiated engagement in which an elderly adult engages in education course to get new knowledge, attitude, skills, or values. It arises from the philosophy that older adults too can accumulate new knowledge, make use of available resources, utilize the knowledge gained to the advantage of their needs, and be willing to take accountability for the knowledge or skill acquired. According to Usher (2014), older adult learning may take a formal approach, no-formal approach, and informal approach.
Characteristics of Older Adult Education
Merriam and Brockett (2011 maintain that in a way, older adult education is one and the same with the traditional education system. However, it is characterized by an individual going to a learning institution with the aim of acquiring knowledge at or past the age of 55. It also entails learning a specific tailor-made or specific degree or skill or a certain technical proficiency. Additionally, it may also involve going back to finish up a degree previously uncompleted. However, the scope of older adult education is wide and entails a variety of circumstances within the learning environment, the skill or knowledge offered and the individual undertaking the learning. In most cases, older adult education is often recognized as a continuing lifelong process (Worthman, 2008). In most instances, many adults upon completing their high school diploma return back later in their sunset years to complete the corresponding degree later in which case it may be termed as older adult education. Irrespective of the order or state of things, going back to complete the degree may be considered as older adult education.
The formal approach entails a structured education system, taking place in a learning institution complete with necessary credentials such as a curriculum. This is similar to a traditional education setting apart from the difference in age for the students. On the other hand, non-formal education represents an organized learning, but lacking in credentials and may be provided in any setting such as in the office, home, in groups, or an open setting (Cummins et al, 2015). In most cases, non-formal older adult education focuses on acquiring a particular skill or values. Learning in such a context occurs in several ways and contexts. Informal education involves acquiring knowledge or skills that entail daily activities in the family, office setting, community, or sports (Smith & Gillespie 2007).
The focus of older adult education is often based on the fact that the elderly are self-motivated to acquire knowledge or skills, need less guidance, are mature and have a broad life experience, are ready to acquire knowledge at their own will, and finally are more oriented to handling life challenges instead of just focusing on one area of life (Merriam & Brockett 2011).
Goals of Older Adult Education
According to Usher (2014), older adult learners often desire to increase their knowledge or abilities in order to get higher qualifications they never received while young. Others, on the other hand, have the passion for increasing on their mental and skill prowess. Often, the central objective of older adult education is to help adults acquire knowledge in addition to their goals while focusing on satisfying their needs on the services received during the learning process. Analysts contend that while older adult learning institutions focus on the basic needs of the elderly, the relationship between achieving the objectives and bringing out the good feeling during the process of imparting knowledge to them plays a key role in achieving key objectives of older adult education (Torres, 2013). From the key objectives of older adult education, it is obvious that the characteristics of older adult education highly differ from those of traditional education.
Analysts note that elderly leaner’s are less confident as compared to adults and younger learners or students. It is as a result of this that institutions offering older adult education try to find an appropriate program, strategy, or methodology that fits or is more relevant for the elderly. For instance, older adults receiving education or learning materials from home or in the workplace often require special tailor made program or education structure that fits their basic schooling or training needs. It thus involves integrating personal growth objectives and the educational needs in order to accomplish the goals or needs of the student and the educator offering the skills (Worthman, 2008).
On a different note, older adult education may also aim at improving the efficiency and productivity of the institution in which case it offers an older adult learning opportunity with the aim of bringing a change in the society and inspiring good order in the society (Merriam & Brockett 2011). For example, the growing list of the elderly enrolling in English Speaking Language also commonly referred to as English as a second language aims at empowering individuals who may not be in a position to communicate in the English language. Additionally, for example, the rising number of development opportunities in the United States has presented an opportunity to institutions of learning, to offer adults and chances to enroll in the course in order to empower individuals and prepare them for job prospects in the market (Torres, 2013).
Key Principles of Adult Education
While children need guidance in their learning process, the elderly often want information and empowerment in order to improve their situation in terms of skills and knowledge based. It simply means that whichever methodology is used while imparting knowledge to the elderly, the key focus is to pay more attention to providing practical knowledge to them. This is because, in most cases, older adults only attempt to acquire skills at what they feel they need to improve on. It thus calls for approaching their learning process through active participation and practicality as compared to adults and children (Wilson & Hayes (2009). Additionally, the above concept has often pointed to providing education to the elderly informally for older adult education is often not based on any curriculum as they approach their education from a problem-solving perspective.
The above factors point to the fact that teaching the elderly requires a different approach or strategy and cannot be the same as teaching adults or children. In order to achieve this objective, educators and institutions need to design or come up with an effective strategy that will ensure that the objectives of older adult education are achieved. It thus poses the ultimate question of how best to approach older adult education, how to encourage the elderly in their learning process, and how best to accommodate divergent views on older adult education. Clark and Caffarella (2011), argue that the strategy applied or used in imparting knowledge to the elderly often point to the level of success of the education prospect. Additionally, in order to encourage more elderly persons to enroll in older adult education, educators need to design an all accommodating strategy that is both in line with general education objectives and the elderly’s goals (Clover et al, 2013). This is because older adult education tends to focus on personal growth and improvement rather than acquiring higher grades as in education in adults and children. The fact that it needs to focus on empowerment, illustrates that the strategy to be used needs to be in line with the key objectives of the learning process.
In order to bring out the best in older adults during the learning process, educators need to keep in mind key facts about the elderly, such as the reality that they know what they need and they are consciously aware of the challenge of learning at their advanced age. Some of these strategies, according to Clark and Caffarella, (2011) aim at making the older adults comfortable while approaching the learning process from their perspective instead of from an expert’s perspective.
Key Teaching Strategies
Treating them as they are which involves acknowledging the fact that they are experienced, sophisticated, and dynamic in their approach to learning. This entails incorporating and tailoring the learning materials and discussions to suit learners irrespective of age. By designing the educational material in such a way, the learners are thus made comfortable in the sense that irrespective of the circumstance surrounding their learning process, acquiring knowledge is not based on age. It arises from the knowledge that the elderly can easily draw and gain from realistic examples they have at the one-time experience in life (Cummins et al, 2015).
The second strategy to adapt should acknowledge the fact that they could have forgotten key regulations and rules governing the classroom or of the teaching process. The strategy should heed attention to building on their self-esteem and never be judgmental of their predicament of being in a classroom at a late stage in life. It thus helps in reassuring them of the reason as to why they are undertaking the acquisition of skills rather than focusing on their age or lack of etiquette in the classroom or within the learning environment.
According to Beavers (2009), some older adult students often exhibit embarrassment at the fact that they are literally behind in terms of know-how in terms of knowledge acquisition (Merriam & Brockett 2011). This often sets in a low self-esteem syndrome that makes the older adult students less secure in absorbing new knowledge. Therefore, in order to overcome this, the educational materials and the approach should an approach that gives the older adult student confidence and reassurance at building on new knowledge in spite of the advanced age. Educators acknowledge that this tactic helps the older adult learners approach knowledge acquisition with confidence and positivity without suffering from feelings of prejudice and low self-assurance (Cai & Kosaka 2016).
Acknowledge the technological difference; this arises from the fact that students approaching their 50th or 60th birthday are not as smart as students in their early 20s or early 30s. Beaver (2009) argues that the gap would call upon educators to gauge each student’s level of aptitude as it compares to the requirements of the skill needed. The aim of this strategy is to tap into their unstable attention spans in addition to their dynamic approach to the classroom setting. Generally, older adults respond to new skills and knowledge skeptically because of the wide gap of generational technology. By taking time and enabling the older adults to concentrate on a particular education concept in class, the educator can successfully tap into their anxiety to acquire new skills, and the need to make a difference in their lives.
Teaching, learning, and acquiring new skills means different things to an older adult student. Therefore, it is important to break down challenging ideologies into fine details, easy to understand the principles, and giving them time to fully absorb the concept. It aims at making the older adult student feel at ease with a given new idea or knowledge (Cai & Kosaka 2016). For example, instead of lecturing students for long hours on the application of the Word Processor during computer classes, it is prudent to let them have a feel of being in “one” with the technology. The strategy enables the older adult students to feel comfortable embracing the skill rather than developing a feeling of “withdrawal” from the new knowledge (Wilson & Hayes 2009). A common notion amongst older adult learners is that the learning process is a daunting task that is best reserved for adults and children. Additionally, older adults believe that at their age, the absorption of new concepts is challenging due to the “aging factor” and the continued downturn of their mental ability. Therefore, to instill positivity on their learning ability, it is important to make them feel in “one” with the skills.
Build in flexibility, efficiency, and diligence; educators need to recognize the fact that older adults have responsibilities and obligations. According to Knowles et al, (2014), understanding the different lifestyle of older adults should call upon educators to move steadfastly, work on a strict and flexible time frame, in addition to maintaining flexibility and accountability in order to achieve an excellent work in teaching the older adult students. Lessons need to be balanced in such a way that instructional and lab time given the students an opportunity to accomplish all they can within a given time frame.
Build on creativity; in a class forum being creative may entail activities such as pairing highly motivated older adult learners with the less capable in order to develop peer encouragement in addition to guidance. Knowles et al, (2014) maintains that this strategy helps older adult students develop interest, high motivation, and achievement. According to academic experts, effective learning and teaching need to focus on identifying older adult students as unique people and by designing the learning environment and situation that identifies diversity in addition to providing situations that empower the students to use their minds to think and delve deep into a given new concept.
Applying Kolb’s four elements to learning
Kolb’s four dimensions entail I) students identified as “convergers” easily become uninterested with theoretical lectures that tend to be abstract. According to Kolb, these students perform better when alone instead of in a given group. The same principle may also apply to older adults whereby, due to the advanced age, older adult learners may develop boredom due to too much theory or abstract knowledge. Therefore, it is prudent to identify such students and offer them the best environment that will involve active participation with less theory. However, the principle applies to older adults due to their advanced ages and lack of interest in theoretical knowledge. Kolb’s second strategy identifies students who have a high level of participation in group work, but have a tendency to detach themselves (Olirch et al, 2012). Although they make good group leaders, Kolb argues that detraction may be their greatest undoing and may hinder their ability to absorb new knowledge. Therefore, to apply the same concept or strategy in an older adult learning situation, it is important to identify the strong points and flaws of every student to enable the educator to apply the best method of learning (Clover et al, 2013).
The third strategy as argued by Kolb may also help in learning about how best to endear the elderly students to learn. According to Kolb, students with good assimilation style maneuver around with ideas soundly or prudently participate well in comprehension and debate. However, they tend to be less practical and may have difficulty in putting together knowledge acquired theoretically and practically (Findsen & Formosa 2015). In order to strategize for adults from Kolb’s argument, educators need to balance between theoretical and practical teaching in order to bring together all the students on board and at the same level while teaching. Additionally, balancing between theory and practice may also help kill boredom or tediousness in some older adult students who may easily be distracted as a result of many engagements outside the classroom. Kolb’s fourth strategy “accommodators” enjoy learning new instruments and unusual teaching approaches which make them respond to difficult situations (Orlich et al, 2012). By identifying a learners’ learning strategy, it becomes easy to identify which strategy may work in the long run. However, due to diversity, it may not be possible to serve the learning techniques as per every student. It is, therefore, prudent to work on several diverse methodologies and stick to specific approaches to encourage learning at an older adult level considering their unique learning style (Cai & Kosaka 2016).
Older adult education plays an important part in community empowerment and national development. Many people consider the thought of continuing with education at an advanced age strange, but trends and change in career skills are gradually changing that mentality. While education for adults and children is considered a way of empowering children and adults for their future careers, older adult education takes the form of sharpening life skills those necessary abilities needed for special purposes in life. It is about personal development and empowerment. While many do it due to necessity out of fulfilling a lifelong dream, a percentage of older adults continue with education for the sheer reason of keeping tab with technological know-how.
The glaring difference that exists in teaching children and adults, thus calls for new measures and strategies to ensure the success of older adults continuing with their education despite the challenges of getting back to a classroom or an informal teaching session. The methodologies used or strategies implemented plays a significant role in ensuring the success and the realization of the objectives of older adult education. While some strategies applied in child education may apply in older adult learning, the elderly often require special-case approaches. For example, while children undertake education in order to pass highly with good grades, older adults enroll in education in order to improve on themselves and angle themselves within their dreams in life. It is thus important to apply and use strategies that will help both the institutions offering older adult education realize their goals, but also, more importantly, help the older adult students achieve their objectives. It is often the ultimate goal to achieve their late lifelong education or career dreams. Learning something new is often a very important part of older adult life. In spite of a wide life long experience with vast knowledge, the elderly often tend to feel challenged with new knowledge, concepts, ideologies, technology, and information that may help them reshape and see their surrounding a new. To help them achieve this, it is prudent to apply the best teaching methods that will not only encourage them, but also inspire them to learn more, achieve more, and undertake more in life despite their advanced years.
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