What is an adult learner?

This week in class, we were challenged to think about adult learning styles and what defines an adult learner. Here are my thoughts…

What an interesting and multifaceted question.

 At first it seems as though it would be easy to craft a quick and personal “definition of the adult learner”; however, once one begins to think about it, there are a lot of points to consider.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that an adult learner is simply someone who is out-of-high-school, has reached the age of 19, and is participating in some sort of academic program of study. And, for the purpose of the PID, this is our target audience.

But we all know there is more to the question than that. 

So, let’s break it down further by looking at the Oxford dictionary definition of the words “adult” and “learner.”

Adult:  a person who is fully grown or developed.

Learner:  a person who is learning a subject or skill.

Ok, all done! Question answered. Well…not quite.

In my original definition, I noted that an adult learner is someone participating in an academic program of study. But, this doesn’t give credit to the lessons being learned continuously in the “school of life” and contradicts the Oxford definition of a learner as “a person learning a subject or skill.”

If you look one-dimensionally at the dictionary definitions, one could then argue that everyone on Earth over 19 is an “adult learner”.

As an instructor, I often challenge my students to delve deeper in to a thought. I do my best to encourage critical thinking and to offer challenges to instinctual, one-dimensional thoughts.

As a professional communicator, and PR and Marketing instructor, I am always preaching the importance of “knowing your audience” so you can communicate to them in a meaningful manner that will resonate with them and leave a lasting impression.

Here is my ah-ha moment. What I am now learning, is that it is just as important for a teacher to understand their student/learner as it is for a marketer to understand their target audience.

So, with that being said, here is my attempt to further segment and define the “adult learner” audience by listing some of their key attributes:

  • they have a desire and willingness to learn or improve themselves
  • they have the courage to learn, change & grow
  • they have the courage to make mistakes and have their views challenged
  • they are open to new ideas and concepts

About robincookbondy

My name is Robin Cook Bondy and I live in Ladner, BC with my husband and three sons. I am a communications and public relations professional pursuing further education in the area of adult learning.
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