Learner Centred Methodologies
Written by Rhonda Wynne, Ireland
Asset Home
Learner Support
Valuing Diversity
Learner Centred Methodologies
Before the Course
Characteristics of Adult Learners
Anxieties of Adult Learners
Motivating Factors in Adult Learning
Recognition of Prior Learning
The Learning Provider
Learning Needs Analysis
Overview of Course Design and Planning Process
During the Course
Creating an Adult-friendly Environment
Teaching Strategies
Experiential Learning
Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
After the Course
Tutor Self-evaluation
Management Review

Teaching Strategies

While it may be difficult to identify the variety of learning styles in your class, some measures can be taken to facilitate and encourage all types of learners. Consideration of the variety of learning styles highlights the need for order, structure, creativity, group work, and practical exercises. In essence, the message for tutors is to incorporate as much variety as possible into courses. However, exercises/discussions, which are introduced, should have a purpose and serve to develop understanding and knowledge, rather than merely being included to add a different dimension.

Pre-learning preparation: As adult students come from varied educational backgrounds, it is necessary to state clearly if there are any prerequisites for taking a course. Are students expected to have any particular skills or abilities? What prior knowledge is assumed? Outlining the necessary prerequisites eliminates the possibility of having to spend early sessions revising material which you might have assumed to be fundamental background knowledge.

Learning outcomes: Learning outcomes, which have been negotiated and agreed by tutor and students, ensure that everybody is working towards the same goal. When learners agree a target with a tutor they feel more involved in the learning process. This helps focus attention and promotes a unified sense of purpose.
Organisation of content: Learning is easier when content and procedures or skills to be learned are organised into meaningful sequences. Learners will understand and remember material longer when it is logically structured and carefully sequenced. Also, the rate of information to be presented should be determined in terms of the complexity and difficulty of content. Thus the learner can be helped to better synthesise and integrate the knowledge to be learned. You need to provide the signposts that will help learners to perceive the structure.
Emotions: Learning that involves the emotions and personal feelings, as well as the intellect, is influential and lasting. Learners also have positive and negative emotional attitudes that can interfere with learning or can increase motivation. A moderate amount of anxiety or challenge activates most learners and increases learning; however, excessive anxiety interferes with learning. Exams cause great anxiety. Essay writing or project writing can also be very stressful. This is particularly so when students are unsure what is being asked of them, or if they feel they have no guidelines/criteria with which to work.
Participation: In order for learning to take place, a person must internalise the information; merely seeing or hearing is not enough. Therefore learning requires activity. Active participation by the learner is preferable to lengthy periods of passive listening and viewing. Participation means engaging in mental or physical activity that will help the learner to understand and retain the information presented.
Feedback: Learning is increased when individuals are periodically informed of progress in their learning. Knowledge of successful results, a good performance, or the need for certain improvement will contribute to continued motivation for learning. Doing and feedback contribute to successful learning.
Reinforcement: It is important for learners to receive reinforcement. Learning motivated by success is rewarding; it builds confidence, and it will affect subsequent behaviour in positive ways.
Association: Learners will learn and remember information better if they have many associations with it; the learning of isolated information is more difficult and less permanent than the learning of information that is related to prior knowledge.
Practice and repetition: Rarely is anything new learned effectively with only one exposure. Provision should be made for frequent practice and repetition, often in different contexts, for long-term retention to be encouraged.
Application: Complete understanding has taken place only when the learner is able to apply or transfer the learning to new problems or situations. First, the learner must have been helped to recognise or discover generalisations (concepts, principles, rules) relating to the topic or task. Then opportunities must be provided for the learner to apply the generalisations or procedures to a variety of new, realistic problems or tasks.

Attention: 90:20:8 Rule

Adults can listen with understanding for 90 minutes
And with retention for 20 minutes
So try and involve them every 8 minutes
Brenda Smith

Learning Styles

All students have different intellectual abilities. They think and learn differently. Some learning patterns will have been developed as a result of the schooling experience where materials were largely presented in a way that benefited students with linguistic/numeric abilities. As a result innate learning styles may not have been developed and students may need to be encouraged to identify their own learning pattern.

There are various ways of classifying differences in learning styles. Many theories and models have been proposed. Some learning styles classifications include:

left and right brain thinkers

auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learners
activists, reflectors, theorists and pragmatists

Each learner will have a preferred way in which to process information. In many instances, tutors will not have the time required to determine their students learning styles. Neither may the tutor have the expertise to analyse individual learning styles or conduct the tests that are available.

The key consideration for tutors is not to rely on one teaching strategy. It is important to remember that some students don't learn very well by just listening and taking notes. Some may have a more limited attention span than others and like activity in class. Understanding the many ways in which people learn is crucial when planning and delivering a course.

Suggestions for Reflection 
  • What approaches do you use to involve the learners?
  • How do you vary the learning activities?
  • Which activities have you found to be the most effective and why?

Questions and Answers

Question and answer sessions create an opportunity for debate and further exploration of concepts. For the tutor, they provide a critical opportunity to give further examples and clear up confusion. For the student, they provide an opportunity to explore their own ideas and develop reasoning and questioning skills.

Students should feel comfortable to answer questions without fear of ridicule. Tutors should feel sufficiently confident to acknowledge when they don't know an answer; and agree to research the student's query.

Managing questions

Create trust and encourage questions early

Build in time for questions
Questions must be guided by definite aims - what is the purpose of the question? What do you hope to achieve?
Ask an easy question first
Avoid questions with yes/no answers
Phrase questions in clear concise language
Define any terms that may cause confusion
Questions should be reasonable for the level of the group
Ask one question at a time - multiple part questions can lead to confusion
Ask questions of clarification or recall to ensure students understand before proceeding to questions of analysis
Ask questions which generate options for students
Ask the question to the entire group rather than to an individual as this ensures everyone is thinking about their own response
Avoid directing a question to one individual
Write the questions on the board or Overhead Projector (OHP)
Ask students to formulate questions in groups
If you do not know the answer say so!

Managing Answers

Give students time to think about their response

You might wish to give students a few minutes to write down their immediate response or thoughts
Encourage answers from a variety of participants rather than let one or two individuals monopolise the group
Look at the students when they are talking - focus on what they are saying
Concentrate on content and not on delivery
Avoid distractions
Don't interrupt
Make sure all the group have heard the response offered
If you don't understand the answer given, ask the student for clarification
Ask students to answer in groups as this involves those students who may not have the confidence to offer an answer in front of the whole group
Do not embarrass or put down students for their attempts at answering
Do not disagree outright but suggest alternatives
Ask for a show of hands from the group on straightforward points
If an answer is incorrect, divert the question to another student or group
If a student has a particular interest or agenda that is not of relevance to the whole group, ask to meet at the break or after class to discuss the point more fully
Recognise the answer and build on the response by asking further questions
Give specific examples to illustrate concepts
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