When Adults Are Fearful of Learning

Posted by on March 20th, 2018

Teaching adults is different than teaching children. The expectations and reasons for learning are different than a child’s. Educators should be vigilant in determining the needs of their adult students because they may not be obvious. An adult’s needs could range from time management to a lack of foundational skills.


They May Have Past Failures

Many adult learners return to their education after past struggles. Teachers should consider the enormity that past struggles play on the mindset of the adult learner. It can be extremely difficult for adults to find the confidence and perseverance necessary to overcome new challenges in the classroom. Educators must introduce methods that help the adult learner navigate their obstacles. Listen to their needs, observe their frustrations, and create a safe and open dialogue with them to overcome their past.


They May Have Been Conditioned Negatively

Past failure is one roadblock for adult learners, but overcoming the conditioning of their environment can be even more difficult. Perhaps they were led to believe that success in education is wrong. Many adults have it ingrained that success in school is not attainable, or even desirable.

Teachers can begin to change this mindset with positive reinforcement and positive outcomes of learning. Provide examples of real-world applications and guide students to make connections to their own lives to help prove that education is a positive experience and will better them going forward.


They May Be Overwhelmed

For the most part, a child’s primary role in life is to go to school and learn. Adult learners don’t arrive in the classroom with the responsibilities of a child. Adults often juggle anything from taking care of elderly relatives and raising their own children, to jobs and other commitments.

It’s important for teachers to communicate with the student to help them manage their time and balance the workload of the class with their lives. Showing students that you understand their situation goes a long way to keeping them calm as they learn to assimilate schoolwork into an already stressful life.


As an adult-ed teacher, it’s essential to consider your students’ points-of-view. Their path to the classroom has an effect on how they learn. Differentiating instruction is as effective for adults as it is for younger learners. Teachers have the tools to make any adult learner feel comfortable and equipped to succeed. It’s a matter of showing compassion, listening, and observing to be able to find the right methods for each student. These are the keys to diffusing fear and opening the path for adult learners.

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