Do adult learning styles differ from learning styles for children?

Adult Learning StylesHere is my short answer: In the adult world, there seems to be more understanding of the fact that people learn differently, and that those differences need to be respected if we want participation and engagement from adults.

So the difference is not in the learning styles themselves, but in the way we treat adults versus children.

Why do I say this? Because the literature on teaching adults makes it clear that those who teach adults need to follow these principles:

  1. Respect that adult students have different learning styles.
  2. Make sure adult students understand “why” they are doing or learning something.
  3. Provide a comfortable environment that encourages discussion.
  4. Focus on relevant, real-life topics.
  5. Make learning experiential and give adults the freedom to learn in their own way.
  6. Encourage adult students by being positive and patient; avoid making them look foolish.
  7. Be flexible and ready to teach their topics of interest as they are brought up.

These same articles state that teaching adults is different from teaching children because:

  • Previous school experiences have made adults dependent, non-confident learners.
  • Adults are more sensitive to their surroundings and need to be made comfortable.
  • The number of associations with formal schooling needs to be decreased so adults don’t feel intimidated.
  • Speaking to adults in the tone of voice used with children is offensive and damaging.
  • Assessing the learning styles of adult students benefits the teacher and the student.

When I read these articles I am left speechless! Then I recover and must speak out.

It is clear to all of us at the LearningSuccess™ Institute that the principles stated above for teaching adults are just as important, if not more important, for children. After all, they cannot get up and walk out, or “drop the class,” or advocate for their own learning needs without getting into trouble. And the damage that is done to children because of inaccurate messages about their intelligence and capabilities lasts, more often than not, a lifetime.

As for Adult Learning Styles versus Children’s Learning Styles—they are the same. No matter what age, a person will have dominant Dispositions, dominant Modalities, and his/her own unique sets of Talents, Interests, and Environmental characteristics that support rather than hinder learning.

Across all age groups, 50% to 60% of the population is hands-on / experiential type learners, and another 20% are picture learners. Children who are doodlers grow up to be adults who are Sketching learners. Children who need to move in order to learn grow up to be adults who have a dominant Performing Disposition. Children who need to verbalize out loud or discuss in order to process information grow up to be adults who have a strong Auditory Verbal Modality, and so on.

Young people who are lucky enough to grow up learning about their own learning styles, and how to use them for success in school and the world, will be light years ahead of students who don’t.

Adult Learning Styles impact an adult’s work, relationships, and personal life in many ways. The same is true for Children’s Learning Styles. The only difference is that for a child “work” is mostly going to school. Whether you are a child or an adult, knowing your learning styles, being acknowledged for your learning styles, and having people in your life who are respectful of your learning styles, can make all the difference in your ability to succeed.

Deb Peterson, author of one of the articles on adult learning, had this to say:

“This is your challenge as a teacher of adults. Beyond teaching your subject, you have the opportunity to inspire confidence and passion in another human being. That kind of teaching changes lives.”

Teachers of young people who apply the principles listed above could then read it this way:

“This is your challenge as a teacher of children. Beyond teaching your subject, you have the opportunity to inspire confidence and passion in another human being. That kind of teaching changes lives.”

Because when it comes down to the bottom-line, “this is your challenge as a TEACHER,” regardless of the ages of those whose lives have been entrusted to you.

This article was co-authored by
Victoria Kindle Hodson and Marieaemma Pelullo-Willis

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