How to keep adult literacy learners engaged and motivated

While learning can be a challenge at any age, it can be even more difficult as an adult. Family responsibilities, jobs and household duties can limit the amount of time adults have to devote to education and hinder their ability to achieve their learning goals. As a result, literacy practitioners often struggle to keep learners engaged.

While some adult learners simply stop attending their classes, it’s important they remain motivated and consistent in their attendance in order to gain the benefits. The following five tips will show you how to keep your adult literacy learners engaged and motivated so that they can successfully complete their literacy programs.

  1. Set Appropriate Goals

Having adequate literacy and essential skills is necessary to live a fulfilled life and reach one’s potential. Research shows that adults who have low literacy skills are more likely to have poorer overall health, lower salaries and lower levels of participation in their communities.

Use the reasons why adults pursued your literacy programs to motivate them. For example, if their goal is to get their GED, remind them of this often. Emphasize what will happen in the future once they get their GED, and how it will improve their life.

Breaking down learning goals into short-term and long-term goals can help learners reach milestones quicker, and therefore feel a sense of accomplishment, more fulfilled and motivated.

Structure your learning environment in a way that encourages learners to focus on practical knowledge and skills, rather than on facts and theories.

  1. Keep Learners Motivated

To encourage adults to persist through coursework, show them how the work is useful, important, interesting and worth their time. For a lot of learners, their ultimate goal is to find meaningful work. Choose topics or programs that teach the skills needed to achieve their goals, and emphasize why it’s important.

For example, UP Skills for Work offers nine workbooks on practical employability skills such as confidence, time management and accountability. When going through the program, explain how each of these skills will be useful when they are in the workplace and give real-life examples of how they might be used.

  1. Inspire Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed learning environments put the learner in charge of their own education. It provides them with the freedom to acquire knowledge in a way that suits them best, whether it be via online, in-class or blended learning environments.

Learners should be encouraged to make choices regarding course options, content and assessments and be encouraged to work at their own pace, with the freedom to choose what they learn.

When learners have some control over their independent learning, they are more likely to challenge themselves and continue through difficult tasks.

  1. Encourage Collaboration and Cooperation

Skill competence, engagement, motivation and persistence are developed in learning environments that inspire learners to work with other learners. Collaborating together provides an opportunity to draw on existing strengths and skills from lived experiences. Use reading and writing tasks that encourage teamwork and involve practical problems. Provide students with clear instruction about learning expectations so that they remain focussed on learning goals, even while working with others.

  1. Offer Incentives

Remove as many barriers as possible that could impact an adult learner’s ability to remain engaged in their coursework. Offer courses free of charge, provide child care support or replacement of lost wages so that adults who may not otherwise be able to attend can now enrol. (If you need additional funding in order to offer this, consider applying for literacy funding or check out our free literacy programs, many of which offer an honorarium for running them.)

There are positive effects gained from offering external incentives throughout learning activities. For example, the introduction of cash incentives was related to course achievement in an adult education program in Tennessee. However, be sure to use external incentives in a way that does not control a learner’s behaviour or diminish their intrinsic motivation.

If you run an adult literacy program and are looking for more support, programming or resources, contact our team today.