Two Models of Adult Education


Expert Presenter

There are two models of adult instruction. The first model is the formal instructional approach that is found on most college campuses: an educational expert presents his or her wisdom and experience. The learners come to be educated by the expert, so they expect to listen while the expert talks. The focus is on the expert. We will refer to this model as the Expert Presenter.

Approach: Expert presents wisdom and experience

Method: Lecture with PowerPoint slides

Role of Learner: Listen and absorb

Learner’s Prior Experience: Limited source of information 

Learning: A passive process of being educated 

Focus: The expert 

  • Expert Presenters are typically highly competent and credible, extremely knowledgeable, and clearly committed to their subject areas.
  • They frequently exhibit a great generosity of spirit, anxious to share everything they know with their audiences.
  • They tend to bring huge amounts of reference information for the learners to take back with them. They provide PowerPoint visuals to clarify concepts. They do most of the talking, rather than the learners.
  • Master Expert Presenters are also excellent storytellers, able to verbally create imaginative and realistic scenarios that bring concepts alive and engage their listeners. They provide examples that are effective and useful.
  • In addition, they establish a positive rapport with their audiences through their credentials, personalities, humorous anecdotes, and responses to questions.
  • They occasionally involve their audiences by posing questions and scenarios, and sometimes even reward respondents with prizes.

Learning Facilitator

The second model of adult instruction is a more informal adult learning approach that is found in many organizations: the instructor facilitates opportunities for the learners to discover and then practice new skills. The learners are active participants in their own learning, so they expect to offer information and demonstrate what they have learned. The focus is on the learner. We will refer to this model as the Learning Facilitator.

Learning Facilitator Approach: Learners discover and practice new skills 

Method: Participatory and hands on activities

Role of Learner: Offer information and demonstrate learning 

Learner’s Prior Experience: Source of information and meaning

Learning: An active process of involvement

Focus: The learner

  • Learning Facilitators must also be highly competent and credible. However, they are aware that adults can learn only so much information at one time, so they focus in on key concepts and skills. They also make sure that these concepts are understood before moving on to the next topic area.
  • Although they provide reference materials, they are generally incorporated into the participants’ workbooks, which also contain worksheets for learning activities.
  • They recognize that PowerPoint is an audiovisual aid intended only to supplement but not replace the learning materials or activities.
  • Learning Facilitators need excellent presentation skills, so they are also masterful storytellers. However, they often call on participants to share their stories, because they know that will keep everyone more engaged.
  • They also realize that learners have different learning styles, so they make sure there is a variety of learning activities that will satisfy the aural, the visual, and the kinesthetic learner (who needs to move physically in order to learn).
  • The key focus is on enabling the learners to actively discover what they need to learn. So the learners do most of the talking, rather than the Learning Facilitator. This does not mean that the learners control the class. The Learning Facilitator knows when to assign activities, how to debrief them, and how to handle questions that arise so they don’t pull the content off track.
  • The Learning Facilitator educational model is derived from adult learning principles that brain studies have proven to increase the likelihood of learning and retention.
Two Models of Adult Education

Which Model is Better?

Is one model of adult instruction better than the other? It depends on what the desired learning outcome is.

There are six progressive levels, or building blocks, of learning. The first level of learning is knowledge, which can be transmitted through lecture and audiovisual aids.

If the desired outcome is an awareness of and exposure to brand new knowledge, the instructional methods of the Expert Presenter can achieve that goal.
However, knowledge is meaningless without comprehension. Comprehension is also essential for affecting attitudinal change. That is why the second level of learning is comprehension.

If the desired outcome is new learning or a change in attitude or behavior, lecture alone cannot accomplish this. A good story can engage the senses, but the learners still need to do something to demonstrate their understanding.

To achieve comprehension, the instructional methods of the Learning Facilitator will be necessary. The Learning Facilitator will use case studies or role plays or games (methods that involve as many senses as possible) to enable the learners to experience, articulate or demonstrate their new learning.

The third level of learning is application, which is essential for building new skills and changing behavior. The Learning Facilitator will use hands on, problem solving, or simulation activities (again, methods that involve as many senses as possible) to enable the learners to practice what they have learned.

The fourth level is analysis, where the learners can break down what they have learned and sort it into subcategories. The fifth level is synthesis, where the learners create something entirely new. And the sixth level is evaluation, where the learners apply criteria to make judgments.

The Learning Facilitator will use hands on, problem solving and simulation activities that are increasingly more complex to help the learners achieve, practice, and demonstrate these higher levels of learning.

Active practice is the only way that learners will develop confidence in their new competence. Their confidence will increase the probability that the learners will use their new skills outside of the classroom.

An Expert Lecturer builds learner confidence in the expert’s competence. It cannot build learner confidence in their own competence.