Motivating Adult Students

One of the most difficult things I have been facing over the years is how hard it is to eager adult students to learn (and to stay at the Institution), especially, after the pre-intermediate level, when “the business start to get more serious”. At this level, they start to lack confidence in their ability to learn and use a new language.
Aside from having busy lives and lots of other commitments, this year, Brazil is facing a major economic crisis that has put “luxury items”, such as studying another language, on hold.
One of the things we have to do is use their experience in the classroom: their busy daily lives and their other commitments.
According to Malcolm Knowles, andragogy (theory and practice of education of adults) should take account of the greater life experience of adults.
Knowles says, while ‘to children experience is something that happens to them, to adults, experience is who they are.’ (Knowles, Holton and Swanson 2005:45).
Thus, why not use this in our favour?
Adults are formed by work, personal and travel experiences, and more: relationships, different cultures, concerns and wishes. Mainly they have difficulties, challenges and good moments that can and should be used as part of our lessons.
Knowles says that one of the problems he has seen in the classroom is ‘’the fact that in any situation in which the participants’ experiences are ignored or devalued, adults will perceive this as rejecting not only their experience, but themselves as persons.’ (Knowles, Holton and Swanson 2015:45) and unfortunately we have been facing the same problem at the Institution.
This does not mean we cannot deal with something new to them. For example, one of the lessons in Face to Face Intermediate book (Unit 4B – Modern Adventurers) is about Ed Stafford – a guy who was the first to walk the length of the river Amazon in 2010. He walked 6 thousand miles and it took him two and a half years to complete this task. He mainly lived on rice and beans bought in villages. And that is not all! He got two hundred thousand mosquitoes and ant bites, six hundred wasp stings and 12 scorpion stings. When he finished the journey he got home, rested and then ran 4 marathons in 27 hours. Students may not have actually experienced this, but they will have enough life experience to imagine what it would be like, and to answer questions such as ‘Do you think you would be able to go on a walk like this?’ ‘What was the most adventurous thing you have ever done?’ etc.
From my professional experience, not only do we have to use personalization in our lessons but also take into account they might be having a bad day or a difficult situation at home. We must see them as a whole and if we do that, there is a greater we will lower their anxieties and they will learn better.


Knowles, M. Holton, E. Swanson, R. (2005). The adult learner, Sixth Edition: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Humam Resource Development. Elsevier. Inc.


Stephen Greene
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Beatriz Solino de Francisco

Beatriz holds the Cambridge Train the Trainer and the DELTA Mods II and III(Teaching Exam Lessons). She has a Licentiate’s degree in English Language from PUC SP (2007). CPE level of proficiency and she has been teaching for 15 years. She is an Academic and Pedagogic Coordinator. She is currently doing a Company Management MBA at FGV.

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