The Adult Learner is a Voluntary Learner

by La Verne Tolbert, Ph.D.
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While younger students are often brought to the classroom by their parents or guardians, adult learners are voluntary learners. Sunday after Sunday, week after week young adults, adults, and seniors attend class of their own volition. No one makes them go to Sunday School or Bible Study! These learners complete assignments, not for grades, but to deepen their relationship with God. Because they are so passionate about studying God’s Word, these learners are a joy to teach!

The wise teacher is aware that adult learners bring a lifetime of experiences and knowledge. They may have wisdom gleaned from years in the workplace. Or, they may have excelled academically by completing college or earning postgraduate degrees. Whatever the path, these learners have stored within them years of practical wisdom from their family relationships, work, church, and community involvement.

Why not add to the richness of your classroom by inviting these learners to join with you in exploring God’s Word? First, get to know your learners. Who are the men and women sitting in your classroom? Beyond learning their first and last names, how much do you know about their background? When topics surface that relate to their experiences,

it’s great to rely upon these experts sitting right in your room.


Teacher as Coach

Think less of “talking” as a teacher and envision yourself more as a coach or a cheerleader. Rather than asking questions that require a simple “Yes” or “No” or asking questions such as “who, what, when, and where,” perhaps ask questions that may promote contemplation and discussion. “How might you have felt if you were in this circumstance?” or “Have you experienced an event that’s similar to today’s lesson?” Invite adult learners to display their knowledge. Their perspective adds to the lesson and the information they share may be just what’s needed to help someone else in the class.

One of the most exciting young adult Bible studies I attended began with the “teacher” presenting a brief 10-minute introduction to the Bible lesson. He began by demonstrating his vulnerability as he recounted a recent experience. He was driving, lost his temper, and nearly experienced road rage. Of course, he felt that he was in the right! He used this account to introduce how Jesus must have felt ministering in an environment where He was wronged.

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Then, this teacher did something very unusual for the rest of the class session. He took the microphone, stepped off the platform, and went from one person to the next, allowing adult learners the opportunity to comment, quote Scriptures, give examples, and more. For the remainder of the class, students did the teaching!

More importantly, these young adults felt valued because their contributions were welcomed in class. I understood why this teacher’s class was so well attended. While this method

may not work for every session, there’s a lesson we all can learn as teachers. Never underestimate these voluntary learners and the potential they have to enrich the learning experience.

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