4 tips for teaching literacy to adults

Unlike children, adults step into the classroom with a specific motivation to learn. Whether it’s for personal, socio-cultural, and/or economic reasons, each adult that takes the courageous step to join a literacy program has a unique reason.

Adults also learn differently than children, which can make your role as a literacy practitioner quite challenging. To help keep your adult learners motivated to finish their studies, here are four helpful tips.

1. Set Appropriate Goals

For a better chance of experiencing success, learners must have both short- and long-term goals. Meeting their short-term goals quickly can help motivate learners to persist throughout the remainder of their studies, ultimately helping them reach their long-term goals.

As a practitioner, familiarize yourself with the reasons your students are attending your class, then break down their learning goals. Regularly check in with learners to discuss their progress so that they can recognize that their long-term goals are attainable.

2. Explain the Importance of What You Are Teaching

To remain motivated in their studies, adults need to understand the reason why learning is important.

Show the value and usefulness of a learning experience by providing opportunities to practice and use skills for a purpose. For example, activities focusing on confidence and stress management can help learners develop practical soft skills for the workplace.

Demonstrate how the short-term consequences of spending time improving their literacy skills (such as being less available to family) will be worth it in the end. For example, show evidence regarding how improving literacy skills can lead to better career prospects, an increased ability to participate in civic activities and a more financially secure future. These colourful infographics on workplace literacy, financial literacy and health literacy statistics can help make your case.

3. Allow Adults the Freedom to Learn in Their Own Way

Whether they are a more visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner, adults should be provided with suitable learning opportunities. Experiential learning experiences such as small group discussions, experiments or role-playing can also be very effective.

Providing choice and autonomy in an adult learner’s experience can result in a higher likelihood of them taking on challenges and persisting through difficult tasks. The choices provided don’t need to be large, either – something as small as allowing adult learners to choose the genre of a novel they will read next can result in positive motivational effects.

4. Provide Ongoing Motivation

When you haven’t entered a classroom in years, attending a literacy course as an adult can be daunting.

From the moment they step through your classroom door, provide adult learners with positivity, encouragement and patience. Whenever the opportunity arises, give your students words of encouragement.

Providing accurate, timely, constructive feedback can provide huge benefits to learners. However, the importance of timely feedback cannot be underrated; doing so can help prevent students from continuing to learn incorrect information and can also help them regulate their learning. Ensure that the feedback is individual specific and appropriate to the learner’s needs.

ABC Life Literacy Canada offers free literacy programs for community learning centres. Learn more about our free literacy programs.