Five Strengths of Adult Learners in the Local Church

March 29, 2016

Most adults have spent 12-16 years of their lives in a learning environment through school and no longer desire to be exposed to an atmosphere that will force them to learn something that does not catch their interest.  If an adult desires to put effort into learning, there are five specific strengths that will assist them in the learning process.  In the local church, these five factors should be considered when focusing on the spiritual growth of adults.

  1. Adult learners are self-motivated. No one is actually forcing an adult learner to attend a Sunday School class or small group meeting.  When an adult shows up, it is because they want to be there!  Teachers and leaders should embrace this motivation and raise the bar.  Adults are in the room to be challenged and grow!
  1. Adult learners are self-disciplined. The dangers of classroom management often associated with children and teenagers do not play as much of a factor with adult learners.  Occasionally an inappropriate comment or a monopolizing conversation may develop, but these learners typically have enough self-management and self-discipline to manage their own classroom behavior.  Often you will find that adult learners are more willing to go the extra mile to assist the teacher and provide support within the classroom and out of the classroom. Teachers can use this to their advantage as adults are capable of filling in the gaps between what is addressed in class, and what could be learned about a particular topic.  Since open-ended learning can motivate adult learners to have further study, a teacher can challenge their group to do further study outside of the classroom.  Some will do the extra work, and they will be quite rewarded for it!
  1. Adult learners bring a variety of experiences. Each learner joining in the learning experience has a unique schema of experience that they are bringing to the classroom.  Teachers should take advantage of this wealth of resources at their disposal to assist in teaching the class.  As mentioned by Gary Bredfeldt in Creative Bible Teaching, “by tapping into the experiences of a group, teachers can make abstract concepts concrete and can involve adults actively in the learning process” (p. 245).  Also, some of these learners may have better insight into helping the group learn a concept than the teacher may be able to articulate.  The teacher must keep in mind, “instead of being threatened, the adult teacher should see class insights and feedback as one of the greatest assets of adult education” (Creative Bible Teaching, p. 246).
  1. Adult learners are relevance focused. Adults are looking to be practical.  Teachers should find a way to incorporate application to life experience into teaching time.  However, it is important not to compromise the message of the text while seeking to find relevance.  The Bible has enough to teach and there is no need to add to that message!  The apostle Paul reminds us in his second letter to Timothy that, “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  1. Adult learners like independent learning & group settings. Adults are capable of learning on their own.  Ironic enough, the teacher is not necessarily needed in the learning process of the adult.  Adult learners may not know how to be independent learners, or what resources to utilize to better learn, but this can certainly be used to the advantage of the teacher.  A teacher can incorporate group learning into the Sunday School or small group time.  This can give a group freedom within the teaching time to explore a set of questions and help deepen the learning process.  Also, group time, provides opportunity for a leader from within the class to be established and developed.  This is an effective way to train leaders from within the group in preparing them to lead a group of adults one day!  What a great way to fulfill the command to preserve the Word and develop new leaders given by the Apostle Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 when he writes, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  Go and do likewise.

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