Who are My Students? The Native English-speaking ABE Learner

Teacher teaching classStudents enroll in ABE programs to achieve specific life goals. To assist them in this endeavor, teachers should establish a connection with each learner and facilitate his/her integration into the classroom environment. Adults differ from children in their orientation to learning, and teachers of adults must recognize these differences and design instructional activities accordingly. The following are some of the characteristics of adult learners.

Adult Learners:

  • Have extensive and varied life and employment experiences. Your students have developed learning strategies that they can apply to new learning but may also have developed coping strategies that can inhibit learning and that must be unlearned.1
  • Are of diverse ages and ethnicities. ABE students can range from 16 through 60+ but approximately 25% will be between 16 and 20, and 50% between 21 and 40.2
  • May have low self-esteem. They may have had negative experiences in the traditional K-12 educational system that limit their ability to be self-directed and self-advocates.
  • Are goal-oriented. They seek practical knowledge to solve problems as workers, parents and family members, and citizens of their local communities. Adult students must see a clear relationship between the instruction that you offer and their individual needs and goals. If they do not see this connection, they may drop out.
  • Represent a wide range of educational levels. More than 75% of adult learners have had 10 or more years of education,1 but their acquisition of academic content has been fragmentary at best.
  • Attend classes sporadically. The adult learner’s family and job responsibilities, and problems/issues related to health, housing, food, and transportation all contribute to irregular attendance and the inability to stay on task. Some students drop in and out of classes as their life situations change and may continue this sporadic attendance until they meet their goals.
  • May not be aware of their deficiencies. They may need help setting priorities and establishing realistic goals that can be achieved incrementally, one step at a time.
  • May need different learning strategies and may have learning disabilities. Instructional strategies must be varied, and students should be made aware of how they learn best. See Appendix A: Resources for Adult Educators for information and resources about teaching adults with learning disabilities.

Back to Top