We’ve noticed a common problem among our clients and colleagues, as well as in our own ministry.
- It’s difficult to get the adults in our congregations to engage deeply during faith formation activities.
- It’s a challenge to help participants in our continuing education courses make room for our activities among so many personal and professional obligations.
- It’s tough to keep the whole class interested in our required seminary courses that might not seem relevant to everyone’s vocational interests.
In short: motivating adult learners is hard.
At Learning Forte, we believe there are some common causes to resistance from adult learners. We also know that research-based practices can help teachers and facilitators overcome this resistance.
One theory of adult learning suggests that experiences often fail to connect because participants weren’t involved in planning or evaluating the activities. Most adults are used to having significant agency in our lives, so we’re skeptical when a teacher comes along and says, basically, “It’s my way or the highway.”
Another adult learning framework offers a helpful template for structuring the process. It says adult learning experiences should generally begin with a guided concrete experience of the concept or skill and proceed to more open-ended opportunities to experiment, with chances to conceptualize and reflect in between.
Still another approach to teaching adults suggests that the most significant learning happens when we can connect the topic to a deep source of confusion or discontent in our lives. Faith formation leaders have a great opportunity to tap into this transformative potential, because religious traditions have so much to say about big questions of meaning and purpose.
So there’s no single correct way to teach adults or even understand adult learning. But there is a mountain of evidence supporting a collection of established approaches that can help you jump-start your next course, book study, webinar, or retreat.
Our experts want to help point you in the right direction and answer your questions about overcoming resistance from adult learners. Join Jamie Burnette and Kyle Oliver for Learning Live on September 13, 2022 at 12–1 PM Eastern Time [register here]. They’ll begin with some adult learning basics and then open things up for questions and conversation.
And in the meantime, we want to hear from you! What successes (or instructive failures) have you had in motivating adults in your context? What theories, tools, or tips do you wish you’d known sooner? Share them in the Learning Hub Commons to support your peers and help guide this drop-in Q&A session.
Together, Kyle Oliver and Jamie Burnette have more than two decades of teaching experience in congregational, continuing education, and higher ed contexts. Jamie is the lead author of Learning Forte’s training series on theories of adult learning.