One Thing Adult Ed and Workforce Teachers Don’t Do that Makes Learners Quit

I recently wrote a blog post about an important question someone asked me at the end of session I was leading.

The question was, “What are the top three things adult ed or workforce instructors should keep in mind when planning a class?” My response consisted of three points.  

In my last post I discussed aspect #1 of my response: understanding the importance and limitation of working memory in adult teaching and workforce.  

This time around, I’d like to elaborate on point #2 of my response to the question: understanding the importance of background knowledge

How does an adult student’s background  impact my teaching, you may wonder? You have the right to ask. Give me a few minutes to elaborate.

What you need to know 

Here’s the secret: in adult teaching and vocational training it’s not just what you want your learners to know or learn that matters —what they already know (background knowledge) also makes a huge difference.

Simply put, if you fail to build your learners' background knowledge (in your content area), they will fail to learn and develop important skills — and they will quit. Why? 

According to educator and author Daniel Willingham, “...background knowledge is an important determinant of much of our success in school. Cognitive processes (such as analyzing, synthesizing, and critiquing) cannot operate alone.”

Willingham also argued that “Background knowledge is an important determinant of what we find interesting.”

A better example 

Specifically, students need to have the appropriate background knowledge so they can successfully develop academic skills such as:

  • Critical thinking

  • Communication

  • Reading comprehension

  • Analysis

  • Presentation or public speaking

  • Mathematical thinking

  • Creativity

  • Innovation

  • Speaking and writing  

Just to name a few.

Implications for your teaching 

What does this mean for your lessons? What should you do if your learners do not have the appropriate background knowledge?

Well, you have more work in your hands. Here is Daniel Willingham’s  recommendation: “We must ensure that students acquire background knowledge parallel with practicing critical thinking skills.”  

I will share some strategies on how to build students’ background knowledge in a future blog post. Stay tuned!

Help advance this adult ed conversation by sharing this post with your favorite adult-ed colleagues. Thanks for being part of it!

The coach

Teddy Edouard is a Learning Consultant & an Instructional Coach with a passion for Teaching, Learning, and Cognitive Science. He is on a mission to help institutions, teachers, and training professionals maximize the effectiveness of their instructional and non-instructional interventions. Teddy translates adult learning theories and other research into ready-to-use classroom teaching tips and strategies for the benefits of adult learners and instructors.

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