Facilitators learn from each other in making connections with adult learners

Sask Bulletin
November 28, 2019

As members of the provincial facilitator community gathered, they were wrestling with the unique challenges that exist when dealing with adult learners.

The consensus after the daylong event was that the opportunity to share strategies with colleagues was invaluable in expanding their repertoire and understanding.

“With adult learners, they come in for their own purposes and they are intentional learners. It is important to build the relationships and sense of engagement,” said Holly Franklin, vice-principal in Shaunavon. “As facilitators in that environment, it is important to create engaged learner experiences.”

Trish Karakochuk, who is an elementary teacher in Wynyard, suggested that the fact these adult learners are paying to be in the classroom can’t be overlooked. “They usually have other responsibilities while pursuing their education, and so it’s important to remember their time is valuable. What we are teaching them has to be relevant specifically to what they are looking for.”

Karakochuk added that adult learners come with higher expectations and with a specific need that can be applicable in their journey.

“They [adult learners] tend to be more engaged and there needs to be a purpose to what they are learning. So as the teachers, you have to balance your knowledge with their expertise.”

Elsa Borsa, a personal alignment coach attending the session from Carrot River, echoed the sentiments of her tablemates insofar as acknowledging that it is not uncommon for these adult learners to have had a negative educational experience previously.

“Many of the adult learners I have talked to are there with a view to create a change in their lives. So our goal is to try and create that change by being able to add what they are seeking.

“There is a responsibility when responding to adult learners that we take into account their various lived experiences. It’s important to create a belief in what we are there for. It can be incredibly rewarding, and it requires you to help them see the potential for real change.”

Borsa agreed that it can be inspiring to see how excited adult learners can be to learn if the level of engagement is sufficiently strong. “It can be very refreshing to see the progress,” she added.

Karakochuk stressed the need for facilitators to be adaptive to the fact adult learners can be quite different from one another in numerous ways. She cited the importance of having that flexibility when coming up with the best-possible strategy.

Borsa concurred, noting that, for example, different cultural backgrounds also need to be taken into account.

“We tend to approach education from the aspect of what resonates with ourselves. But I have found this experience definitely broadens your own understanding, and so it’s a learning experience for the facilitators as well,” she noted.

Karakochuk said attending this workshop with like-minded colleagues was just the ticket since she emphasized how those in the room shared her own aspiration of being a lifelong learner. “If you were in this group, then for sure you could confirm that learning never stops after you graduate [from university].”

Franklin was effusive in her praise of how the day had been developed by STF Professional Development (formerly known as SPDU), including facilitator Michelle Naidu.

“[STF Professional Development] really has this figured out and they did such an excellent job of helping you understand what fits. It was presented in such a way that we can definitely model what we learned here today and put it into practice. Having attended this workshop has for sure made me a better facilitator.”

Karakochuk was particularly grateful for the specific examples that revolved around the importance of engagement. She noted the benefits of those in the room having shared their learning in such a way that there were tangible signs of evidence in how to remove barriers for adult students.

As Borsa said, “This was such a great opportunity for helpful feedback,” which she suggested can sometimes be a struggle to achieve. “For sure the wheels are going to be turning on the way home,” she quipped, accompanied by the nodding heads of her colleagues in agreement.