teaching an older adult learner

Effective Teaching Techniques for the Older Adult Learner

Not every adult learner in your online classes is a digital native.

Plenty of online students can go for hours without checking their iPhones.
And these learners see going to the library to borrow books as perfectly normal.

So when students like these enrol in an e-learning course, they have different needs from digital natives.

Here’s how to set up a mutually productive working relationship with mature students.

5 Effective Teaching Techniques for the Adult Learner

1.  Let your adult learner know you’re approachable

She may need some guidance, but be worried about asking “silly” questions.

So let her know that lots of initial questions are common – from all kinds of students. A large part of your role is to offer guidance and direction.

And once you’ve answered her questions, you can also point your adult learner to the student-friendly FAQ page you’ve set up for the course.

2.  Re-frame the e-learning technology

To an older adult learner, the technology side of things is potentially more daunting than the course content itself.

older adult learner

It helps to demystify the e-learning technology by pointing out it’s a learning tool – not a trap intended to induce course-failing panic.

Explain that the LMS is laid out using headings and links which are as intuitive as possible.
Spending an hour taking a good look around is an investment which will pay off for the whole course.

And if your organisation has set up an online tour of the LMS, show your student where to find it.
It’s a great, practical way to get oriented (without you doing more work).

3.  Offer a mix of learning resources

Appealing to different learning styles is a great way of ‘getting through’ to an older adult learner.
Sure, she might prefer ‘old school’ hard copy readings.

But, depending on her background and natural tendencies, she might also like to watch a video demonstration, or listen to an online lecture.

Give her some options wherever possible.

4.  Remember an adult learner has relevant life experience

If assignments and discussion boards allow some topic flexibility, invite students to reflect on their personal or professional experiences.

An older adult learner has usually done a lot and seen a lot.
She has plenty of life experience to draw on.

By making an explicit connection between the course and her life experiences, you help her feel less lost, and more empowered.

And in the process, you underline that online learning can be more relevant than she might have expected.

5.  Keep communication and feedback timely

Asynchronous courses can be a real challenge to the older adult learner, who may only have experienced the immediacy of face-to-face education.

an adult learner needs good communication

Prevent feelings of isolation developing by making sure your students know the standard time frame for assignment feedback, and how long you take to respond to emails.

It helps to answer emails as soon as possible, too.

A prompt response can delight and reassure an older learner who may otherwise feel abandoned and lose momentum with your course.

These simple teaching techniques can make all the difference to establishing rapport and respect.

A little patience and sensitivity can go a long way when you discover you have an adult learner (or two!) in your online classes.

Once they get over their initial nerves, these students are often keen to learn, and do really well. They can see the value of the course, and recognise their need to up-skill.
So they apply themselves with a more mature and organised approach.

And there’s an unexpected bonus in working with older students.

They know how to say ‘thank you’ for your effective teaching skills.


While it’s great to be acknowledged and recognised for your work, these comments also have another function.

They’re proof that you’re doing a great job!

This is a really positive two-way street:

  • You help your adult learner to adjust to the rigours of online learning.
  • And she offers positive feedback that helps you professionally in return.

I’m always happy to see another older adult learner join my online classes!

How about you?

Graphics used under license from Shutterstock.


    Definitely reminding them that they have life experience to bring to the table supports their confidence to learn online. I also remind them of abilities that they have away from the keyboard, such as knowing how to drive, that demonstrate they Are Able to learn new things.

      That’s a great idea, Char – and by drawing on other elements of their lives you make the learning itself more relevant. Thanks for your comment!

      That’s a great idea, Char – and by drawing on other elements of their lives you make the learning itself more relevant. Thanks for your comment!

Comments are closed.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you are okay with that. Click to close.