Adult Learning Strategies


Technology has changed the way students learn, no matter their age. Although technology is generally easier to navigate for the younger student, it is a critical tool to understand and utilize in the world we live in today- no matter the age.  

With all the information we need at our fingertips, adult learners want to learn to find and apply information but it is also through the lived experience that lives are shaped and minds are molded.  Adults learners need to be able to apply their life experiences to their current learning to make the learning meaningful.  Adults learn best by participation in relevant experiences and utilization of practical information. When adult students are active in their learning they are able to develop critical thinking skills, receive social support systems for the learning, and gain knowledge in an efficient way. Innovative methods in teaching should be used in every college classroom to enhance student engagement, support any teaching environment, and encourage inquiry among learners.

Ideas from Other Institutions

Understanding some of the characteristics and challenges adult learners face can enable faculty to support adult learners in positive ways.  Duverge (2016) outlines these six strategies; keep it relevant, remember student backgrounds, integrate emotion into lessons, encourage exploration, make assignments convenient and always offer feedback. Understanding how to teach adults will help with attrition and student success. 

Suggestions for Northwestern

Online faculty must understand the learning process for the adult learner as well as the learning outcomes for the courses they teach.  Then, through the help of the online course designer and suggested teaching-learning methods, develop their course to help students apply the knowledge gained and find meaning in their learning.  

Strategic Plan

Goal 3.2 – Pursue strategic enrollment growth – Increase graduate and adult enrollment 

Additional Resources:

Karge, B.D., Phillips, K.M., Jessee, T. & McCabe, M. (2011). Effective Strategies for Engaging Adult Learners.Journal of College Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from

Regents of the University of Minnesota (2015). Adults as Learners: Effective Teaching Strategies: [Workforce Solutions Conference]. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from

Johnson, S.M. (2017). Teaching adult undergraduate students.Vanderbilt University. Retrieved from