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Adult Education: When Students Challenge You, Let Them

Updated on October 3, 2018
Rodric29 profile image

Rodric has a Master in adult education. He has over ten years of facilitation and teaching experience.


It is a sign of engagement and entertainment?

As strange as it may sound to some, it is important that adult students are engaged and entertained. There is no better way to engage and entertain a student than to encourage participation and let him or her speak freely!


Always maintain appropriate time-management and control of the class by providing class policy expectation beforehand and a venue/apparatius for students to ask questions about policy. There must be rules of engagement or guerilla tactics will certainly occur!

Avoid guerrilla warfare in the Classroom


Does this ring a bell?

You are sitting in a training meeting and the flow of discussion is going well. People are offering ideas and participation is all-inclusive. Someone throws a brick wall up called, "Okay no more comments, we gotta move on." You move on but the dynamic discussion stops.

Yes, it happens. There is nothing wrong with that depending on the setting. Meetings are timed and there are things to be covered. However, there is always a better way to keep the fire alive in the participants and cover the needed materials in a teaching setting no matter how much time is left. In this article will be discussed how students challenge instructors to instruct--how it is a good thing when that happens. It means they are learning.

About Adult Education

One of the most insecure types of instructors is the one who cannot stand discussion--dialogue, which is an excellent form of education. True education can occur when the student learns, and the instructor learns also. This, of course, applies mostly to adult educational settings.

WHY is that important?

Adults, generally those older than the age of 25 years, depend on their antidotal educational experiences, which are not incidental in the least and have general application in all societies. This life-experience learning occurs within every cultural array and consists of common cultural themes that apply to the majority of people within a cultural context.

Simple day-to-day communication learned in socialization and employment can provide insightful discussion and learning in a communications class at university or any learning setting.

Adults HATE lectures! Blah!

In contrast to pedagogy, or learning for children, andragogy, adult learning involves added value learning. Adults tend to learn ONLY what assists them with employment, life improvement or recreational pursuits--hobbies. They only seek out those things that add value to their lives within the subcontexts of their personal experiences.

Most people are adults, so most learning occurs at-will in the world. Instructors who understand the demographics of those whose education they will facilitate will find the most successful and rewarding careers in education.

Most adults WANT to receive the information from educational sources, so it is simple for instructors to provide the avenue to dispense it. Instructors must first provide key elements in their curricula to maximize the learning experience.

THEY Pay for the learning so that they will Learn!


Not that engagement and entertainment are so different, but for my purpose here we will separate them. The student already wants to learn the information because they have a vested interest in knowing what is being taught as has been listed previously, We get past the age of 25 and our brains change in a way that we become extremely selective learners.

Twenty-five years old or so is around the age that our frontal lobes in the brain are fully developed and learning becomes less about filling up the brain with information and more about discovering practical application of the information learned, and what additional information will supplement what we have already learned. This is vested interest-learning.

Through the magic of that vested interest, an instructor only needs to provide the wand of a platform for students to share. Participation is key to keep students engaged. What better way than encouraging differing opinions than the instructor to facilitate growth? Confidence to express an opinion by providing a safe environment to do so helps the students to retain the knowledge learned because it is not being spoon-fed to them as if they are ignorants!


The way to keep adults engaged is to include them in the instruction somehow. Ask adults relevant questions about what is being taught that might include something similar to an experience or experiences they've had in other professional settings. In that way, it seems more like a sharing of ideas with equals. Remember, in most adult teaching settings, the people are paying the instructor to give them a service or training. If engagement is high, that is the garden of repeat business and referrals to other potential paying students.

If instructors make their students feel like imbeciles, as college professors tend to do, unless they are college professors, those instructors are going to be unemployed. Adults want to know that what they have learned is recognized while learning something to supplement that knowledge. All curricula for adults planned in a way to include the adult learners will produce better results. Unlike public school and even college, the adults generally want to be in the learning situation.

Would it make your more inclined to participate in a class if you feel the instructor respects your knowledge and ability to reason?

See results


Entertainment has a pleasurable connotation. It means to hold the attention of a person or persons in a pleasurable way. Slasher moves can be entertaining to some. Many people like to be frightened in the safety of the movie theatre or amusement park. Just like engagement, entertainment holds the attention of the students. There are so many ways to capture adult learners entertainment tooth without becoming a stand-up comedian.


Ice-breakers are not appropriate in all situations and make take away from the learning environment if applied incorrectly, though it is a good way to lubricate the mind-engines of adult students. Give an interesting fact or ask a thought-provoking question that connects in some way to the lesson.

As an instructor at the beginning of my weekly lesson on occasion, I made wild statements informing the students that by the end of the lesson or training it will make sense. It can be irritating for some students and I would not suggest it to be the main way of keeping them entertained, but it can work.

Appropriate comedy works also--contextual comedy. Teach a concept, tell a humorous thing relating to it, and if they laugh or chuckle you know they learned it.

Encourage stores or examples. Nothing is more entertaining than a good story! I learned more about Roman history by watching the Netflix series The Roman Empire: Reign of Blood than reading any history because it was told in story form. The best and most read books of modern time teach concepts in stories, such as the Bible.

In the end, it is up to the facilitator or instructor to decide what is best for his or her students in relation to what is the subject-matter. A motivated adult learns when he or she feels the instruct respects his or her existing knowledge. That respect leads to adults trusting and opening up to receive more knowledge.

© 2018 Rodric Anthony Johnson


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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you!

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony Johnson 

      2 years ago from Surprise, Arizona

      Ann, thanks for reading and commenting. Your support of the adult learners needing to feel valued affirms to all who read that it is not just a one-person show. Even with my masters in adult education training, it means nothing unless what I say strikes a chord with those who read. As you have written, none of knows everything but some of us knows a lot! You, for instance. If you won't toot your horn here I will for you. Toot!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 years ago from SW England

      As Bill says, I think any teaching should include a two-way communication between pupils and teacher. I have taught across the board and I find adults open up less than children and it's therefore more difficult to get them to relax and participate in good communication. It's therefore necessary to listen, accept comments, and permit valid discussion, as you say.

      Good points here, Rodric. Teachers should always be prepared to learn as well - none of us knows everything!


    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Your welcome, Rodric. And please don't stress over my story. I still got a lot out of the class regardless. It was just a bump in the road of life. Have a good evening.

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony Johnson 

      2 years ago from Surprise, Arizona

      Zulma, I agree with you. Being able to see things from another person's point of view is important to be a skillful writer. Hey, a temper is a good thing to control. You know yourself and avoided a volatile situation.

      I am still miffed by your experience. It may have been a long time ago for you, but it is recent in my mind and new to me! I am glad that it is behind you and it has been instructive in your life.

      You may be able to do some online classes if you still want to take a creative writing course. I have toyed with the idea myself. You have given me the drive to look for some. Thanks. Blessings.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you, Rodric. It happened a long time. This the first time any instructor treated me that way and it threw me. I realize he was the exception to the rule. I've had instructors who acknowledged and encouraged different points of view so we could discuss them as a class. It taught me to put myself in the other person's shoes and see things from their perspective. A valuable skill for a writer.

      I'm glad you were able to at least speak to the professor afterwards and move on. I think if I had tried that, things would have gotten ugly quickly. I have a quick temper.

      I have toyed with the idea of taking creative writing class at the local college, but I don't know if I have the patience to sit in a classroom anymore. lol

      Nice chatting with you and have a lovely day.

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony Johnson 

      2 years ago from Surprise, Arizona

      Zulma, oh my gosh! I am so sorry you had that experience with that instructor. It irks me so much when an instructor takes the opportunity to use his or her credentials to subject others to their narcissism!

      Any good instructor wants students who think for themselves and challenge their ideas. How else are we to learn and grow if we are so self-involved that we cannot consider another point of view, at least!

      There is supposed to be room in my class for even those types of people, but not at the expense of the other students. If you cannot tell, I am disgusted.

      I had a professor try and do that to me. I talked to him after class to avoid making it seem like I confronted him. He was very gracious but stuck in his ways. I kept as quiet a possible until I passed his class and went on with my university experience. Tenure can ruin an otherwise good professor.

      I hope if the opportunity for you to participate in a public class arises that you will think about taking it. Your views matter and your perspective is priceless. I know I am a choir member preaching to another member of the choir. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      2 years ago from United Kingdom

      These are very good points when it come to teaching adults. The best learning experiences I've had were with instructors who were enthusiastic about what they were teaching. It was infectious and I was eager to learn what they had to teach.

      At the other end, I had an instructor who was dismissive of my opinions. It was an college English literature class and were discussing a play we, as a class had watched. When I tried to explain my take on it, he cut me off mid-sentence saying he wasn't interested in my 'nonsense' and moved on to someone else. Needless to say, I shut down immediately and refused to participate in class discussions after that. This wasn't a one-off and I got the impression he was only interested in opinions that mirrored his own. I did my assignments, passed the class and refused to speak to him after that. It did make me wary of taking any more courses after that so I've been 'home schooling' myself ever since.

      As I said, some very good points here and it was good to hear from the other side of the classroom.

    • Rodric29 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rodric Anthony Johnson 

      2 years ago from Surprise, Arizona

      Thanks, Bill. I have tried to use the same teaching model that I use on adults on teens and younger kids. It works with the teens and not so much with the elementary kids. I lost control of the classroom a couple of times because I gave too little structure to the elementary kids. I taught one middle school class and it was a Herculean effort to keep them from joshing around. I gave up and started threatening them with punishment. I am not a teacher for kids. The crazy thing about it is that I enjoyed myself more with the kids! It is so fun teaching youth. The excitement and wonder in their eyes is almost intoxicating. It builds my ego knowing that kids want to know what I know.

      I suppose it is the same with adults. If I can get them thinking deeply about a subject it provides a rush. I love it when I have to reign in a discussion just a bit during youth or adult learning.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      All good suggestions for a teacher of adults. Actually, I taught middle school and high school, and your suggestions are valid on those stages as well.


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