How to teach adults with learning difficulties

It’s never easy for adults to seek help with their literacy skills, so after they enroll in your literacy program, it’s important to do everything possible to help them be successful.

Adults with learning difficulties have additional challenges to overcome. They may develop skills at a slower pace or might have difficulty understanding more complex information. The tips outlined below can help you when teaching adults with learning difficulties.

Learning Style

Identify each participant’s learning style and use techniques that work best for them. Present information in several ways: orally, written on the board, or outlined on a worksheet. Encourage peer learning and make it as participative as possible. Avoid situations that may create anxiety for adults with learning difficulties, such as public speaking exercises.

Having a structured learning environment can help immensely. Maintain a well-organized learning space, keep expectations consistent and make materials accessible. Provide specific, concrete, and understandable instructions and outline the course material you’ll teach each day.

When assigning project work, offer several options. Provide clear, concise instructions and an example when applicable. Let learners know that asking for help is not only acceptable, but welcomed.

Student Motivation

Learn the reasons why each learner has enrolled in your program. Embrace flexibility and creativity while creating a written work plan that incorporates specific goals set by each individual. Provide frequent positive feedback about their progress. Celebrate every learner’s achievement – even small ones – to motivate them to continue with your literacy program.

Listen, talk and observe to discover learners’ interests and strengths. Respect everyone’s uniqueness and use common language and personal context throughout your teaching activities.

Teaching Style

Identify ways that may help accommodate a learner’s learning disability or difficulties. For example, offer information to participants who could benefit from getting tested for hearing or visual impairments.

Before introducing new information at the start of each class, review previously-learned material first. Break down complex concepts into smaller steps and frequently check in with learners to see if they have any questions.

Repeat instructions often to allow enough time for everyone to process the information. Take suitable breaks throughout your program to assist with concentration and provide an opportunity for learners to seek your help on a one-to-one basis.

Teaching literacy skills to adults with learning difficulties will take time, patience and persistence. Learning can present challenges, resulting in frustration for program participants. If a learner becomes frustrated, do your best to adjust the learning material at hand to help support their learning.

Be conscious of the language used to deliver information, including non-verbal communication. If you’re unsure how to communicate something effectively to a learner, ask them for feedback.

The Key Takeaway

Understanding your adult learners’ abilities and needs is the key to ensuring all learners will be successful in your literacy program.

ABC Life Literacy Canada offers several free programs and resources for adult learners and those with diverse abilities. Visit our Programs & Initiatives page to learn more.