Characteristics of teachers as learners


General characteristics of adults as learners

As trained teachers, we have many strategies for working with children in the classroom. However, when facilitating sessions with teachers, it helps to understand key features of how adults learn and what impacts on the effectiveness of professional development with teachers.

The Principles of Adult Learning written by Stephen Lieb is an excellent starting point when considering the needs of adult learners. Below is a brief summary.

He lists the following characteristics of adult learners that need to be considered when designing professional development.
  • Adults are autonomous and self-directed and need to be given some freedom and responsibilities for their own learning.
  • Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge which need to be acknowledged and valued
  • Adults are goal-oriented.
  • Adults are relevancy-oriented. They must see a reason for learning something.
  • Adults are practical, focusing on the aspects of a lesson most useful to them in their work.
  • As do all learners, adults need to be shown respect.

Finally, he talks about four essential elements of learning that need to be addressed when working with adult learners.
  1. motivation - creating a safe environment for learning and setting an appropriate level of difficulty for the participants.
  2. reinforcement - encouraging participants as they learn
  3. retention - ensuring participants can retain and apply their learning.
  4. transference - helping learners to make connections so that they can use their new learning in other situations.

Teachers as learners

The Educational Leaders site has a summary of a paper called 'The influences on teacher learning' by Stoll, L, (Jan 1999). Below is a list of the main influences on teacher learning:
  • Life and career experience
  • Beliefs
  • Emotional well-being
  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Motivation to learn
  • Confidence that (s)he can make a real difference
  • Sense of interdependence
What does this mean for the way we work as facilitators?

Task: Personal reflection examining your own sessions in relation to adult learning needs
Read the full text of the Principles of Adult Learning (a quick read) and the summary on the Educational Leaders site(an even quicker read). Reflect on a session that you have recently facilitated. Think about these focus questions in relation to that session.
  1. What were the main motivations for teachers to be at that session? Were these effective motivators? How could you help improve levels of motivation?
  2. How did your session cater for each of the characteristics of adult learners? What improvements could you make if running a similar session to cater for these needs?
  3. In what ways did you consider the four elements of motivation, reinforcement, retention, and transference within the session?
  4. What was the impact of the influences on teacher learning in your session? If some of the impact was negative, how could you change the way you worked with those teachers in the future?

While we are not asking that you share back your reflections in relation to the above questions, feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion in the 'Discussion tab' for this page.