The Adult Learner: 9 Points to Remember

The Adult Learner: 9 Points to Remember

“There is virtually nothing going on in the lives of adults, whether it is home life, work, or social issues that does not have religious and spiritual significance.  The challenge is to help adults experience what matters most in their lives in terms of Gospel values”  -Neil Parent, The Concise Guide to Adult Faith Formation, 51.


Understanding Adult Learning

As we start off the program year, I know I am always focused first and foremost on the children and youth entrusted to my care. But adult education is equally as important (and sometimes more important when we remember that the faith of children is most deeply formed at home with their parents). 

Adult learners have different needs and gifts to bring into a conversation about their faith. Often times it is hard for adults to admit they need more information or to name their hunger to have their lives make sense from a Christian perspective. 

9 Points to Remember about Adult Learners

Here are a few tips I try to remember as I am planning adult education and working with adult learners:

  1. Adults maintain the ability to learn throughout the life cycle.
  2. Physical and sensory abilities do decline (think about things like comfortable chairs, good light, frequent breaks, room temperature room accesibility, etc.).
  3. Adults are a diverse group – they have different learning styles, needs, backgrounds, skills, etc.
  4. Adults are self-directed and must be treated in a way that recognizes and respects their maturity as adults.
  5. Adults are “practicality-oriented.” Their learning is driven by their desire to learn a new skill to advance on their knowledge, to deepen relationship, to better parent their children, etc.
  6. Practical issues can be MAJOR barriers to adult participation (take things such as the availability of childcare, parking, the time of programs, duration of programs, place of programs, etc. into account!).
  7. The adult learner brings his or her experience to the program being offered.  It works better if you invite them to participate in the learning and give them the chance to bring what they know into the process of the group.
  8. Adults will often attend programs they would not otherwise attend for the benefit of their children. Planning events for children in which parents can be included is a great way to fill gaps in adult Christian Education.  Basic information can be conveyed that adults would be embarrassed to admit they did not already know.
  9. God remains the best teacher for all of us.  Leaders bring their particular skills, knowledge and gifts to an adult learning environment, but they should ALWAYS be asking “What does God ask ME to learn in this setting?”

It is a privilege to walk with adult learners on their journey of faith.  It is a joy to be a partner in their meaning-making experience of faith.  The lives of our learners, as well as our own lives of faith, are transformed when mindful and intentional adult faith formation happens!


Dr. Elizabeth L. Windsor is the Director of Christian Education at Sudbury United Methodist Church in Sudbury, Massachusetts. She is an accredited Godly Play storyteller. Christian formation throughout the life cycle is both her profession and her passion.


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