How Should Teachers Motivate Adult Learners To Attend Universities

Published 26 Jul 2016

The composition of the student population has changed. The educational institutions which were once dominated by youth are now slowly being invaded by adult learners. According to Knowles, there are two criteria in determining whether an individual should be classified as an adult: a) those individuals who perform roles associated by our culture with adults; b) those individuals who perceive himself or herself to be responsible for his/her own life. (Dr. Karen Jarett Thomas)

With the changing student population, new challenges in the field of teaching have also emerged. It bears stressing that the learning needs of the adult learners are very much different from the children learners. A teaching strategy may be effective for children learners but may not be as effective for adult learners. Thus, it is important for teachers to adjust their teaching styles and strategies to suit the needs of the increasing adult populations in educational institutions.

This case study focuses on the motivation of adult learners. Specifically, this paper will seek to answer this problem: How should teachers motivate adult learners to attend universities?

In answering this question, this paper will use as model Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This paper will seek to prove that adult learners can be motivated to attend universities using Gardner’s theory that all people possess at least eight different bits of intelligence that operate in varying degrees depending on the individual. (Julie Wise) This intelligence include linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, and naturalistic intelligence. The problem, however, is that the present system of education has not only discouraged the adults from attending universities but it also has de-motivated them to learn because of its emphasis on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence to the neglect of the six other intelligence.

The purpose of this case study is to prove that the application of Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences in the Andragogy can be a source of motivation for the adult learners to go back to universities. This case study presumes that adult learners already know the importance of education. With the wealth of experience, they bring to the classroom, they know how important education is to their personal development and professional advancement. The present system of education, however, has not encouraged them to learn. The learning styles and strategies adopted in most educational institutions are only geared towards measuring linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. In this situation, learners who are naturally gifted in these two bits of intelligence will naturally perform well in class. Consequently, these students are the ones who excel academically. Adult learners who are naturally gifted in one of the six other bits of intelligence will perform poorly in school. It is as if the educational system is denying education to these other adult learners. Thus, to motivate adult learners, there have to be changed in the learning strategies of teachers to allow adult learners to develop the six other bits of intelligence. Thus, Gardner stressed the need to develop all the eight bits of intelligence.

Gardner’s theory will be applied to the following setting: there are around 35 students in one classroom; they are all adults who wish to finish their college education; some are single mothers who are between 30-35 years of age who are working for promotional and career advancement; some are single who are presently in experiencing financial difficulties, some are experiencing problems in their relationship with their loved ones, some are retired government employees who only wish to learn and experience finishing his education; some enrolled for want to meet new friends; some desire to finish their college education to be promoted;

The school environment which embraces the difference in the method and manner of learning between adults and children designs various techniques by which adults could be motivated to learn. This educational institution is geared towards developing the eight bits of intelligence which Gardner argued that we all have. It is also committed to ensuring that the educational institution will adopt a particular kind of learning environment that will motivate the adults to learn by enhancing the reason for learning and by decreasing the obstacles to learning.

Writer’s Role

The writer’s role is to observe the behavior of the adult learners before they enter the university. Emphasis will be given to their expectations on the university, their fears and apprehensions and their feelings about returning to school. During the learning sessions, the writer will also take note of the reactions of the adult learners to the activities they are required to perform. At the end of the learning session, the writer must inquire into the actual result of the class from the point of view of the adult learners. The inquiry must be made whether their expectations have been fulfilled or whether their fears before the learning sessions were validated.


The teacher must admit the fact that the traditional means of teaching which gives emphasis on Logical-Mathematical and Linguistic Intelligences is not sufficient to properly motivate adult learners. According to Gardner, there is a unique blending of the eight bits of intelligence in the person. As such, if teachers will focus only on these two bits of intelligence in the classroom to the point of neglecting the six other bits of intelligence then it will be tantamount to the teachers depriving the other students of education. Concentrating on the two bits of intelligence will motivate those adult learners who are predominantly linguistic or predominantly logical-mathematical in intelligence. At the same time, this will also de-motivate and discourage those who are predominant on other intelligence.

Teachers must also realize that one of the differences between adult learners and children learners is that the former brings to the classroom a wide array of experience they often would want to share with the other adult learners. Teachers must take precaution that the discussion is not controlled by the adult learners.

Teachers must also realize that the adults want to know how the lessons being learned in school could be applied in their everyday lives. They lose interest when they are made to attend classes without the teacher explaining the relevance of the topic to their personal or their professional lives. Thus, the teaching style should be adopted to suit the needs of every adult learner.

The teachers must bear in mind the following key principles of adult learning:

  • motivation;
  • reinforcement;
  • retention;
  • transference.

(Stephen Lieb)

In order to ensure that the adult learners are actually motivated to learn, the teachers must, right at the very beginning of class, establish a friendly and open atmosphere showing that he is willing to teach the adult learners. Reinforcement happens when the teacher acknowledges positive behavior from the students or when the teacher informs the adult learners when their response to a particular situation is not proper. Learning happens when the adult learners actually retain the information they gained in class. Transference is the transfer of learning that adult learners were taught in class. It could be positive transference in the sense of applying the principles they learned or negative transference in the sense of not applying what they are told not to do.


The observer’s task is mere to make a record of the behavior of the adult learners before and after this case study is applied. Emphasis must be made on the response of the students to the activities performed in class.


The task of the facilitator is to ensure that the tasks and activities are properly performed by each adult learner. His task is to ensure that the adult learners actually learn from the activities. The teacher must also act as a facilitator once in a while. The facilitator must also coordinate with the teacher in choosing the right kind of activities for the adult learners.


The specific goals of this case study are the following: a) to gain a better understanding of adult learning; b) to prove that life is a journey of continuous learning. Learning is a continuous process which applies to all persons regardless of age; c) to develop different strategies for teaching adult learners; d) to prove that it is possible for adult learners to be motivated to study by enhancing the reason for learning and decreasing the obstacles to learning; e) to eliminate the barriers to learning such as lack of time, money, lack of interest, lack of confidence and responsibilities at home and at work.

Reasonable Timeline

The application of Gardner’s Theory require the development of all the eight bits of intelligence, consequently, there must be enough time for the teacher to apply all teaching strategies in the development of the 8 bits of intelligence. There is no specific timeframe involved because this will depend on the pace of each student.


The application of Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence in the field of adult learning is realistic. Though his theory has not yet been accepted by psychologists, educators have responded positively to this theory. At present, the theory has been embraced by educational theorists and applied by teachers as a solution to the problems of schooling.


The purpose of the case study is also attainable considering that it is very realistic and there is enough time for the teacher to apply all his teaching strategies. At first, it may appear difficult considering that educators are already having problems teaching just one kind of intelligence. Educators will eventually have a more difficult time teaching all eight bits of intelligence. However, I believe that in the long run, it will be to the advantage of the teachers in the sense that they will have eight additional strategies by which they could teach adult learners.


I expect that the majority of the students, if not all, will be able to appreciate and fully comprehend Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and that activity designed to the development of all the eight bits of intelligence will help motivate the students to go to school.

This case study also seeks to encourage the academic institutions who until now are still applying the traditional methods of learning to adopt Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Expected Outcomes

I believe that the outcome will be positive and the two objectives of this case study will be attained. Firstly, we will see a significant improvement in the behavior of adult learners manifesting that they have been actually motivated and have learned something. Secondly, we will also see a distinct improvement in the way teachers and the educational institutions handle teaching.

Measurement of Outcomes

To be able to determine whether the objectives of the case study have actually been attained there must be a way by which the results could be measured. One way of measuring is by conducting an interview to the adult learners several months after the learning sessions and by asking whether there have been improvements in their personal and professional life after the learning sessions. The outcome can likewise be determined by monitoring the behaviors of the adult learners at the end of each class and comparing them to their behaviors at the beginning of the class.


This makes the case study very pragmatic in the sense that the society needs well-rounded individuals who are not only experts in a particular field. We need individuals who have the potentials to excel in a variety of fields This case study also provides a solution to the problem of out-of-school youths which is widely prevalent in our society today.

Analysis of Outcomes

Based on the activities performed in class, there are distinct differences in the teaching strategies between an adult and a child. I have come to realize that adults also need to be stimulated to learn. They want to be involved in the planning of the teaching strategies that will be applied to them. Adult learners want the goals and objectives established in class to be realistic. They also want to see the relevance of the lessons to their personal and professional lives. They also want to receive feedbacks from their teachers on the progress they are making in class. It is also important for adults to be given the opportunity to apply the lessons they learned in class in direct and concrete settings. Lastly, adults are not concerned with the content-based instruction instead, they want the teaching strategy to be problem-centered.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The application of Gardner’s theory in the field of adult learning is very promising but it is still in its infancy stage. Educators and educational institutions are yet to completely realize how effective it is in motivating adult learners. This case study not only has proved that Gardner’s theory may help in arousing the interest of adult learners and helping them to become motivated to go to school but it has also helped the teachers and parents gain insights on how to improve their teaching skills.


  • Lieb, Stephen. Principles of Adult Learning. Retrieved October 20, 2006
  • “Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” Wikipedia. Retrieved October 22, 2006
  • Thomas, Karen J. They’re Not Just Big Kids: Motivating Adult Learners.
  • Retrieved Wise, Julie. Multiple Intelligences Theory. Retrieved October 20, 2006
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