Table of Contents

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 Adult learners who pursue technical or computer careers will find that the classroom has been replaced by a lab equipped with a staggering diversity of computers and electronics.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 2004).