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February 2, 2012 / Thinknology

5 Questions to Ask When Choosing Materials for Adult Learners

Choosing instructional materials for adult learners can be a daunting and time-consuming task for a number of reasons. Adult learners are a diverse audience with regard to age and demographics so one size does not fit all. The students have a lot going on in their lives so the materials must be engaging and motivating or they will not stay with program. As we know, student persistence is a major issue in many adult education programs. Although there is no magic bullet, here are some tips from a long-time developer of educational materials about what to look for in quality materials for adult learners.

  1. Are the materials written for adults? This is the first question you should ask. Since many adult learners struggle with reading, math, and language arts, they need instruction that is written at levels 3 through 8. However, most of the materials on the market at these levels are written for kids and are a major turnoff for adult students. Even if the publisher tries to pass it off as appropriate for adults, take a look at the illustrations and read the text. Stories about kids for kids and juvenile pictures are a dead giveaway.
  2. How old are the materials? Check the copyright date. If the materials are more than five years old you can be sure the content is not relevant in today’s world and the stories are old and stale. Adult learners, like all adults, want to work with content that is fresh, timely, and relevant to their lives. If they’re reading an article about Ronald Reagan as our current president, you can be sure they will be turned off. It is worth your time to find new and engaging content, your adult students will be forever grateful.
  3. Will the way content is delivered engage my students? Adult students have technology all around them with computers, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. So, nothing could be less motivating to a new student than walking into a classroom and have to learn from a workbook or photocopies of workbook, and probably an old one at that. To be sure, books will always be a part the learning process, but the blended instruction model is being implemented more often in many programs. Be careful. There are technology-based programs that are all sizzle and no steak. Check the content and make sure the program is not just glitzy technology with a lot of bells and whistles with no substance. Also, if extensive training is offered as part of the package, the program is probably not that easy to use.
  4. Is the program based on sound research? Teaching adults is very different from teaching kids so be sure the program’s research base in grounded in adult learning. The Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) is a great resource for all kinds information and data about adult education and students.
  5. What is the cost? This is the most basic question of all. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules here, everyone’s budget is different. When buying books, the publisher should offer discounts based on the quantity purchased, usually for 10 or more. When buying technology, look for flexible pricing and avoid long-term contracts or complex site licensing arrangements. The best pricing offers flexibility by length of time and number of students and not being penalized if a student drops out. Finally, there is the cost associated with consumable materials that have to be replaced every year vs reusable materials that don’t have to be replaced.

What has been your experience in choosing the right materials for your students? Let us know.



Leave a Comment
  1. Angela / Feb 22 2013 4:17 pm

    These are good tips and you are right it is exteremly hard to find materials and information on adult learners and how technology impacts them. So far on the web I have found all topics on adult learning lead to K-12 education.


  1. Questions to ask when choosing materials for adult learners | Adult Education

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