How to engage with students in further education

teaching further education

Adult education has never been more critical or in demand, with many finding it a more valuable education path than university, particularly in the context of the current skills gap. More than 2.2 million adults were enrolled in government-funded further education courses during the last academic year, and the number of apprenticeships increased by nearly 10,000 over the same period. Consequently, there remains a significant need for candidates to fill jobs in adult learning.

However, there are substantial differences in how teachers can engage older students in further education, compared with how they would teach younger students. While some skill sets are similar, those considering a pivot into a further education job should be aware that adult learners have different needs. Here are three important tips on how you can better engage with adult learners in a classroom setting.

Establish clear career paths for the course

Lifelong learning is considerably different from basic education, and those who enrol in FE courses are often doing so for one of two reasons: to broaden their intellectual or artistic horizons or to enhance the skills and knowledge that they need for their career. According to one survey reported by Huffington Post, 21% of adult learners felt more productive as a result of participating in further education.

However, that statistic seems unusually low if you take into consideration that productivity at work is likely to be a motivating factor for students to begin with. At the start of the first lesson, once introductions have been dispensed with, take some time to explain the wider benefits of your course to your students. This can include career prospects after they earn their qualifications, other routes they could take afterwards, or what knowledge and skills they stand to gain from the course in a practical sense. This can help manage their expectations and allow them to see what your classes will be able to do for their productivity once they return to their jobs, or find new employment as a result of your lessons.

It may also be beneficial to open up the floor for discussion and ask the class to self-evaluate their progress throughout the course. This will establish a useful collaborative dialogue between you and your students, allowing you to both learn from each other, and making sure that you all get the most from the course, both in terms of attainment in the lessons and on into the job market.

Consider that your students may already know the subject well

Adult learners are often self-motivated and take up FE courses as a way to further pursue their interests or needs. Consequently, these students will come to lessons armed with their own experience and knowledge of what you’re talking about. By engaging with these students in a way that acknowledges their awareness of the subject, you can validate their experience while also establishing your role as the class leader.

Teachers working in adult education have observed that letting students come up with their own objectives is a beneficial way to improve motivation and allow them to get the most of their further education studies. By understanding the gaps in your students’ knowledge, whether defined by the students themselves or through your experience as a further education professional, you can make your classes engaging for everyone involved.

Manage pupil behaviour appropriately

This may be an obvious point, but it’s still one worth making; compared with young students, adult learners are generally better behaved. Still, you need to ensure that you adhere to your institution’s policies regarding poor behaviour; if your students arrive late, talk in class or fail to complete assignments, do something about it. Likewise, maintaining a no-phones-in-class policy is a proven method of ensuring that students will maintain their concentration and engage fully with the course.

Setting boundaries, even with adult learners, will ultimately be beneficial for the relationship between you and your students. All of your students are likely to be taking your lessons for similar reasons, and providing an atmosphere where, as one teacher training site puts it, the members of your class “feel safe to express their views and make mistakes” is key.

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