Today’s Adult Classroom

Whether they’re called career colleges or workforce development
systems, today’s continuing-education classrooms have little in
common with the instructor-driven settings typical of so many
high schools, especially the high schools of the past. Nowadays,
professional instruction–in both traditional and online
settings–offers career training to a diversity of students from
a broad range of ages. Whether students have been away from the
classroom for a decade or four, they’ll find significant
differences between today’s interactive settings and the
classrooms of yore.

The Look and Style of the New Adult Classrooms

Instruction has changed over the past 20 years, as
student-centered teaching dynamics have taken hold. The
lecture/note-taking format many adults recall with dread has
given way to instructor facilitated discussion. Today’s students
find themselves sitting in a circle, animatedly conversing with
each other in business or humanities classes. They interact
through a range of professional activities, from individual
presentations to collaborative projects. Adult learners who
pursue technical or computer careers will find that the classroom
has been replaced by a lab equipped with a staggering diversity
of computers and electronics. Today’s “smart” classrooms have all
the “toys,” and adult learners can draw on instructors, lab
assistants, tutors, and fellow students to acquire the skills to
use them.

The Students Have Changed, Too

When adults walk into today’s classroom, they’re pleasantly
surprised to see who’s there. Though surveys show that the
“average” adult learner is a 35-year-old white, middle-class
married woman with a family and active community involvements,
adult students individually come from a range of backgrounds and
have a variety of reasons for returning. Yet they do share one
core trait: the desire to study for a personally and financially
rewarding career. Since adult students are serious about
education, their contributions to discussion dynamics tend to be
professional and mature. Moreover, adult students expect to help
each other, often forming discussion groups outside of class or
using e-mail to keep each other stimulated and involved.

Though adult learners sometimes fear what their instructors will
think of them, instructors know better than most the many reasons
why people interrupt or delay their educations. After all, only
one in four Americans has a four-year college degree, whereas
half of American adults have no college experience at all. Bottom
line: Instructors like teaching adults because adults are
motivated, eager, disciplined learners who contribute diverse
life experiences to the classroom.


“10 Predictions for the Adult Student Market.” Recruitment &
Retention in Higher Education 19.7 (Jul 2005).
Adult Learning Initiatives (
Facing Your Fears as an Adult Returning to College
“Learning Voices,” by Paul Stanistreet. Adults Learning 16.1 (Sep

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