Teaching adults in groups vs individually Certain aspects of teaching to adults


Certain aspects of teaching to adults are valid whether they are taught in groups or individually.

When they attend a course, adults have certain motivations (1): 'They need to understand the usefulness of the course

'They want/need to use their personal experience

'They need to deal with real life situations

'They need to put into practice what they have learnt and check if it works in their current situation.

These points need to be validated before, during and after the course, otherwise the learning experience is likely to fail.

Teaching to an adult audience also needs to be adapted to how the adult learns best:

'Learning with no stress: most adult learners are working in a stressful environment and won't cope with additional stress when taking a course. Adults can feel uncomfortable when their colleagues attend the same course: they fear to be judged. The teacher must set rules to encourage mutual respect in a group to allow all members to participate freely. The individual learner could also feel this stress but it should be easier for the teacher to encourage the learner's self-confidence in a face-to-face situation.

'Learning differently from their experience as young learners: teaching should be based on their own experiences, referring to real situations rather than abstract notions. The teacher needs to explain that he is not 'in front' of the group or the person but 'with' them. He wants to share his knowledge with the students, but they also have valuable knowledge that will benefit the whole group. The teaching process is working both ways. The teacher should encourage rather than judge. Teaching is 'student centred' rather than 'content centred'. 'The learning experience must strengthen self-confidence: the adult learner needs to be involved and encouraged. The teacher explains the course's objectives, leads and encourages the students, but if they are neither motivated nor involved in the course, they will not improve. Their involvement is essential to their success.

In face to face teaching, two different personalities have to work together, each of them having their own experiences, values and references (2). The teacher cannot benefit from the variety of personalities found in a group: he needs to use his listening and adapting skills more intensively. The teacher must make sure the student is stimulated, doesn't feel discouraged and gets enough self confidence to move forward. He should make the learning experience as 'easy' as possible. This requires some specific behaviour from the teacher: he must be authentic, not playing the role of 'the teacher' (3). The more sincere the teacher is, the more the student is likely to trust him. And trust is the key to a constructive learning relationship. He must accept the learner as he is, with his differences, and show he is confident that the learner will succeed. Finally, the teacher must be listening with empathy to the learner: in that way, the latter will feel understood and not judged and will build his confidence up.

Strong personalities can face difficulties working together: a teacher has his own style and it could be to the opposite of that of the learner. Once again, the teacher needs to use his listening and adapting skills in order to bring the learner to enjoy his lessons and ultimately, improve his English.

Defining the course contents from the needs analysis is easier with individual students: contents are 'tailored' to the learner and can be adapted. The pace can easily be increased or slowed down according to the student's progress. In a group, the need analysis may show different expectations which may be difficult to meet in a common course (4). The group needs to agree on a set of priorities: this is likely to generate frustration for those whose expectations will not be met. The teacher should be attentive to those students and give them extra activities so they can feel their expectations are being addressed. Finally, the teacher needs to make sure the pace of learning caters to most members of the group and doesn't bore the stronger students or discourage the weaker ones.

The key to a successful learning experience is the teacher's ability to adapt to a variety of situations, whether teaching a group or a person.