Lesson 3 - Characteristics of Adult Learners Illinois State Library


Page 1 of 6


Maria is an unemployed mother. She has entered a literacy program because of a referral from her son's school. Her son, Tony, is having difficulty with both his academic ability and his behaviors and Maria lacks the skills needed to help Tony achieve academic success. She does not know what to expect in tutoring and confided in the literacy coordinator that she has always had difficulty learning. It is very important to Maria that her tutor be considerate and understanding.

Questions for consideration as you work through this lesson

What are some of the common characteristics of adult learners? How important is it to understand the learner's culture? How important is the first meeting between the tutor and the learner? How important are motivational and communication skills? What information does the tutor need to know about Maria's difficulty in learning in order to succeed?

Key Point

Adult literacy programs serve a variety of adult learners, many of whom may be categorized into the low socio-economic status. Lower socio-economic status can be caused by unemployment, or difficult family circumstances like being a single parent. It is not uncommon to find several difficult circumstances facing one adult learner. Some learners are adults who receive - or are in need of referrals to receive- mental health counseling. Other adult learners have been diagnosed or are waiting to be diagnosed with a learning or developmental disability.

For a variety of reasons, adult learners are seeking tutoring in Adult Basic Education (ABE), job skills, and/or English as a Second Language (ESL). Meanwhile, others may want to learn a variety of academic subjects to earn their General Education Diploma (GED). However, despite unfortunate circumstances, the adult learners are searching for educational opportunities and want to improve their life situations.


  1. What is the relationship between the volunteer literacy program and the adult learner?
  2. What is my relationship with the adult learner?