Characteristics of Adult Learners

What does the term “adult learner” mean to you? Does it mean literally an adult who is in the process of learning something new? Can we simply categorize this person as being over the age of 18? While chronological age could be used to describe an adult learner, there is in fact many more characteristics that define an adult learner.

Certainly, there are many resources on the Internet that can assist you in understanding just who an adult learner is. I found the Asset website list of specific characteristics that set an adult learner aside from other student learners helpful (Wynne, 2015). Characteristics from this list and other resources that were most meaningful to me as an educator include that adult learners:

  • come with life experiences
  • are motivated to learn
  • have high expectations (Pappas, 2013)
  • may have conflicting priorities (their lives can be very busy)
  • are self-directed
  • are practical, want helpful and practice information that they can use in their daily lives
  • can be opinionated
  • may resist change – need to know why they should change anything
  • may have logistical challenges
  • possibly slower, yet more integrative learning
  • may lack self-confidence, etc.

Based on characteristics such as these, I strive to incorporate a number of strategies into my classroom and clinical instruction environments to be sensitive and aware of the adult learner’s needs, challenges, and strengths. I am very reflective in my efforts and really try to imagine the student’s experience and perspective. Along with getting to know a bit about them through their autobiography, I share power within the learning environment, facilitate discussions and welcome opinions, create learning opportunities that build self-confidence, have students self-assess their learning, and pay close attention to how students like to engage with others and with the learning material. According to Barkley (2010), I am using a number of strategies that promote and produces student engagement by creating synergy through active learning and motivation.

Have a look at this YouTube video entitled: “7 Characteristics of Adult Learners'”. I really appreciated watching this neat video that shares the adult learner’s perspective of who they are, what they want, and what they need to be successful in the learning environment. Here it is:


Barkley, E.F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pappas, C. (2013, May 8). 8 important characteristics of adult learners. eLearning Industry. Retrieved from:

Wynne, R. (2015). Characteristics of adult learners. Asset Project. Retrieved from:  


2 thoughts on “Characteristics of Adult Learners

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s