As more and more adults who work full time are returning to the classroom to further their education, it is becoming even more important that schools have the right instructors in place to help them take that next step.
“The advent of the baby boomers is driving adult learning today,” says Dr. Stephen McClellan, professor of health care administration at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, which has campuses in Cincinnati and Mount Vernon. “People are living longer, they are healthier, and they have more money to spend.”
Smart Business asked McClellan about the number of adults going back to school and the type of people who do it.
What unique ideas can instructors in the Master of Business program bring to the table?
The senior faculty at our school of business brings a unique set of skills and competencies to the classroom. This includes a great deal of real world experience, as well as teaching competence.
Real world experiences are important because practical examples enhance learning. This is especially important to adult students in MBA and MSM programs because they are literally coming from the work world right to our classroom. What they are seeking is a practical application of the principles that they learn about in class. Principles are just intellectual exercises; they’re important, but giving the adult students something they can apply at work the next day is critical.
In addition, it’s important for the faculty brings wisdom and passion for what they teach the adult learner. Wisdom comes from their experiences in the world of work, and professors need to be willing to share both successes and failures.
Passion drives our commitment to encourage our students to strive for higher levels of learning. In some ways, it’s like being a life coach because our commitment to the adult learner is not classroom-bound. We take the entire life experiences of the students into account and provide what they need for professional success. Maybe it’s a promotion or an opportunity to move to a better-paying job. Talking with an MBA faculty member who’s been there and done that is invaluable to the adult learner.
How much of a difference is there between teaching adult students and traditional students?
The two are very different. For example, adult learners are self-reliant and learn at their own pace. They learn best what they perceive to be most relevant. They are more realistic and less tolerant of non-meaningful learning. They work hard during the day and sacrifice to come to class at night. They have lots of other obligations and their time is very valuable.
The biggest difference is the real life experience that adult learners bring to the classroom. They want to communicate those experiences to others and their perception coming into the class is that it should be more of a dialogue and less of a monologue. Essentially, the teaching method used with undergraduates is that the teacher lectures to the class.
Adult learners want to hear about the professor’s experiences, and they want to be pulled into a conversation so they can share their own experiences. They want to test their own ideas, while looking for that new piece of knowledge or insight that they can use the next day.
Are adult learners more driven?
In general, I would describe adult learners as internally motivated; the motivation to be in class every day comes from within. They’re looking for a promotion in their chosen field or a new and better way to perform on the job. They want to be in the classroom, and that’s why they’re intolerant of situations where their time isn’t being well-used or if what’s being taught isn’t applicable to their particular interests. And they will let you know, in a polite way, of course, that they prefer to be more involved.
DR. STEPHEN MCCLELLAN is professor of health care administration at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Reach him at (740) 392-6868 ext. 4753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.