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The Importance of Adult Participation in Classrooms

Updated on August 13, 2016
Rodric29 profile image

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

The importance of education as a value added-benefit for adults helps to determine how well adults participate in classroom settings.

The Facts of Life

Adults in the Western culture trend towards education as a fact of life and the needs of these adult students will change as they grow older—ways to maintain interest and fulfill new needs as they arise.

Most of those who participate in education come from a culture of education, the middle class. Because most training and learning trends toward middle-income people, participation in any extracurricular activity fulfills adults desire to continue learning.

Adults, therefore have an expectation that all educational activities must have applicable value before investing time they could use towards an immediately beneficial endeavor.

Interesting Note

A bit of information regarding education among adults, specifically among women, is that the gender gap for education has closed and heads in a different direction favoring women as more women attain higher education degrees than men .

This is a significant mark for education trends among adults and may result in dynamic changes in the way classroom participation develops.

Classroom Participation

Classroom participation in young adults is shaped by environment, socio-economic class, and gender.

Recent studies indicate that educational participation is linked to behavior, attitude, and disposition and that gender differences in classroom participation may vary depending on the topic, style and location of the classroom environment.

Because so many elements play a significant factor in adult education, the programs designed to instruct adults need to have more versatility than only to disseminate information for regurgitation.

Collaboration and Facilitation

Adult participation in higher education in any format must focus on learning that promotes collaboration. The importance of discovering what the class knows prior to teaching it helps determine how effective the instructor will be able to hold the students’ attention. Johnson recounts,

Sister Morrell was warm and inviting personally. She raised some interesting topics during the class discussion and facilitated whatever debate would arise. I knew, no matter the heat of the discussion that she cared about whether we understood what was taught. She did not miff people who held differing views than hers, but welcomed the discussion and listened as if the opinion of others mattered as much as did hers.1

In this observation, the instructor made the student feel comfortable by identifying with the student so that he would participate and contribute to the class without restraint.

Haavind pointed out in her study of online collaboration among students in her virtual high school that

Discourse facilitation can support cognitive engagement by helping discussants focus more sharply on content, or by moving them more deeply toward mastery of new concepts. The role of facilitator is inherently a coaching or supporting role that helps to guide inquiry. It differs from the role of expert, who might provide explanations, clarifications, or other forms of direct instruction within the context of dialogue.2

Though Haavind’s study dealt with the pre-adult student, research supports that learning among adults works better if the instructor takes on the role of a facilitator and encourages discourse among the students to help gain mastery of the concepts provided in class rather than the role of specialist that provides all the answers.

This behavior from an instructor to promote class discussion supports the idea that student contributions are warranted; therefore, encouraging the students to gain information independently.

The result of independent study allows the students to participate in the class discussion and give ownership to the student for the knowledge he or she obtains and dispenses to contribute to the collaborative learning.

The importance of education as a value added benefit for adults helps to determine how well adults participate in classroom settings. Negative teacher attitudes, lack of curricular or evaluative modifications were causes of students’ failure in the classrooms according to research submitted by Subban & Sharma.

Haavind’s study included a test group of students who did not have the privilege of collaborative discussion and showed a significant difference in performance outcome when juxtaposed the subject group.

Adults tend to appreciate their knowledge and experience being acknowledged by others—supporting the idea that if the same respect occurred between instructors and youthful students the result would be similar (being that those youthful students will eventually mature into adults).

This is important because the research offers insight into preparing children for higher education and reveals that adults and children are similar in learning.

Students were found to be more successful in classrooms where teachers had positive attitudes toward inclusive education.

The indication from Johnson;s experience with his teacher mentioned previously supports the idea that participation is directly related to how well an instructor can facilitate learning and instruction.


Modification of the curriculum

Modification of the curriculum contributes to students’ success in the classroom. The ability to adjust lesson plans to fit the needs of the student in real-time is a feat of master teachers who take the time to plan lessons and receive training to incorporate a level of learning that will increase student participation and reduce stagnation and ebb.

In any written lesson plan, there should exist room for change and tweaking that allows the instructor to head the lesson and not slave to its details. Technology is the current trend in education allowing online and distance-education to rise significantly and benefit groups of people who would otherwise lack accessibility.

Technology seems to allow more collaborative interactions between students as adult education appears to be heading more towards online education.

Further research shows that employment forecasters did not take into consideration the economic downturn during and following former President Bush’s presidency in the United States.

The Baby Boomer generation that depended on pensions and social security benefits to help during retirement may not have the same luxury that the previous generation of retirees enjoyed. Not as many of the Boomers will be able to retire at age 65 as previously anticipated either.

According to the Merrill Lynch New Retirement Study published in 2006, 71 percent of baby-boomers say they will work after retirement. The new retirement for people 60+ won't involve withdrawing from working life. Instead, boomers want to find a new life balance that includes some form of employment.3

Educational discussions and texts lend that training for this diverse, yet, mature group of people will affect the type of educational trends for adult learning because the necessary catering to the learning needs of this demographic.

The Baby Boomers remaining in the workforce cannot be ignored. This culture of adults mingles with younger adults to create even a greater need for instructors to be versatile and able to adapt education and training so all adults can contribute without sacrificing the integrity of the course material.

What Say You

Should teachers focus more on Collaborative Learning?

See results

Materials Referenced

  • Andres, L., & Adamuti-Trache, M. (2008). Life-course transitions, social class, and gender: a 15-year perspective of the lived lives of Canadian young adults. Journal of Youth Studies, 11(2), 115-145. doi:10.1080/13676260701800753

(2008, ¶. 6)3

  • David, M. E. (2009). Diversity, gender and widening participation in global higher education: a feminist perspective. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 19(1), 1-17. doi:10.1080/09620210903057590

  • Haavind, S. (2007). An interpretative model of key heuristics that promote collaborative dialogue among online learners [1]. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(3), 39-68.

  • Heath, S., Fuller, A., & Paton, K. (2008). Network-based ambivalence and educational decision-making: a case study of 'non-participation' in higher education. Research Papers in Education, 23(2), 219-229. doi:10.1080/02671520802048760

  • Johnson, R. A. (2010) The effective teacher. Unpublished Paper.

(Johnson, 2010, p. 3)1

(p. 52)2

  • Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide(3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.(n.d). Corporate America Faces a Brain Drain. Science Letter, 3832.

  • Subban, P., & Sharma, U. (2005). Understanding Educator Attitudes Toward the Implementation of Inclusive Education. Disability Studies Quarterly, 25(2), N.PAG.

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (2009). Gospel principles . Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  • Topçu, A. (2006). Gender difference in an online asynchronous discussion performance.Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 5(4), 44-51.

© 2013 Rodric Johnson


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