The three different ways that adults learn

Each one of us learns best when information is presented to us in a certain way. As literacy practitioners, we must be able to adjust our methods of instruction accordingly – especially with adult learners, where additional effort is needed to keep them motivated in their learning.

To help you with your adult learner teaching strategies, we’ve outlined the three different ways that adults learn, including numerous teaching tips for each.

Allow Adults to Learn in Their Own Way

Research shows that we can retain approximately 10 per cent of what we see, 30 to 40 per cent of what we see and hear, and 90 per cent of what we see, hear and do. Although we have the capability to learn via all three learning styles, we are usually dominant in only one. The three primary learning styles are visual, auditory and kinesthetic. By understanding the different ways people learn, you can improve your teaching and help learners achieve their goals.

1. Visual

Visual learners perform better by looking at simple, easy-to-process images, pictures and graphs.

Teaching Tips: Use worksheets, whiteboards, PowerPoint presentations and flip charts. Frequently check-in with adult visual learners by asking them if they see how something works.

2. Auditory

From music to rhythm to rhymes, the sounds of the lesson best teach this type of learner.

Teaching Tips: Speak clearly, ask questions and invite feedback. Encourage active participation from auditory learners by involving them in class discussions and asking them how something sounds to them.

3. Kinesthetic

To be able to understand a concept, kinesthetic learners must learn from doing. They normally skip over written instructions and instead, work a problem out using a hands-on approach.

Teaching Tips: Provide frequent breaks to avoid kinesthetic learners from becoming easily distracted. Include learning activities that invite exploration, role-playing and physical activity.

How to keep all three types of learning styles engaged

Children are eager to soak up knowledge and continue learning from every situation they see, hear and do. Adults, however, are much quicker to prevent future learning from happening once they think they fully understand the subject or activity.

To enhance this unique learner group’s situational interest (regardless of their learning style), try incorporating the following into your teaching methods:

  • Project positivity, encouragement and patience throughout your teaching, always recognizing the positive contributions that adult learners make.
  • Set clear expectations of coursework while also demonstrating its usefulness in solving real-world problems.
  • Recognize that you may be their only advocate in their learning; always display respect and communicate with encouragement and a positive tone.
  • Provide opportunities for critical reflection when teaching adults new concepts.

To understand the learning styles of learners attending your literacy program, conduct a short learning style assessment at the beginning of your course. You could also simply ask each individual how they learn best. Based on these findings, plan coursework for your adult learners that will increase the likelihood of successful course completion.

As a national literacy organization, many of the complimentary learning materials and resources we provide are suitable for all three types of learning styles. Learn more about our free literacy programs and initiatives.