Guiding Older Adult Learners

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Guiding Older Adult Learners

Patient education is based on adult learning theory. There is an extensive literature on older adults as learners that Hiemstra (1980) summarised into the following practical guidelines:

Attention to the pace of learning:
• allow for long periods of time between stimuli, for responding to questions, and for group discussion
• allow more time for all aspects of the learning experience
• avoid sudden surprises or changes
• be sensitive to perceptions about life satisfaction and locus of control
• keep sessions short (perhaps 50-60 minutes), the discussion time on any single subject matter topic short, and present small amounts of information at anyone time
• keep the pressure of time at a minimum
• permit and promote self-pacing by learners
• promote certainty, confidence, and success by moving from easy material to difficult (build on earlier successes)
• provide for frequent refreshment and restroom breaks

Involve the learner in the instructional process:
facilitate the learner’s active involvement in all aspects of the individualising process
facilitate self-directed learning
encourage self-directed determination of learning goals, approaches, and resource needs
enhance the development of a positive self-concept
reduce learner dependency on the instructor and increase self-responsibility
promote self-motivation and learning efficiency
utilise discovery techniques

Organisation and meaningfulness in learning activities:
• be highly organised
• suggest instructional goals or objectives and help learners develop their own
• use prerequisites, outlines, study guides, and other advanced organising techniques
• help learners increase a belief in personal learning ability
• help learners process information they receive
• help learners increase their ability and perception of self in terms of reading proficiency
• help learners organise and reorganise their learning activities
• facilitate the use of learning contracts
• encourage practicing techniques
• encourage learners and show them how to take notes or to make outlines
• encourage learners to use verbal coding
• explain the use of specific encoding procedures
• make organising the material part of the learning
• stress tying together of concepts, relevancy of information, and connections to learner’s experience base rather than memorisation
• utilise materials and information that will have real meaning to the learner
• use a highly stimulating approach that will appeal to several senses
• use concrete examples and base them on past experiences of the learner when possible
• be sensitive to cognitive or learning style differences with corresponding effects on meaningful materials
• utilise various cueing devices
• encourage the learner to develop various mediators or mnemonic devices (visual images, rhymes, acronyms, and self-designed coding schemes)
• seek cues that are familiar or that can be tied to past knowledge
• use headings, summaries, and review aids

The personal approach of the facilitator:
• be positive, supportive, and helpful
• help older learners compensate for intellectual and non-cognitive changes
• help to promote learning confidence, self-discipline, and self-respect
• maintain an environment of informality and levity
• work to make learners feel welcome in any new learning setting
• work to make learners feel welcome and at ease

Relating to needs and experiences of learners:
• base learning activities and instructional approaches on the needs and interests of the learners
• be flexible in terms of differing needs, interests, and abilities that may exist
• be sensitive to life stages and the impact of life changes on needs
• be sensitive to the value of social interactions among learners
• use small group discussion to help learners analyse personal and group needs
• encourage people to work together in groups when feasible on meeting certain needs
• help learners to relate new knowledge to past experiences
• help learners understand the advantages and disadvantages of being an older person and the corresponding impact on needs
• if text material is utilised, help learners tie the information to their current knowledge base
• understand cognitive style of learners and develop instructional approaches for different styles

Sensitivity to barriers, obstacles, and physiological needs:
• be sensitive to declining hearing and related problems for some older learners
• be prepared to help learners move closer to sound sources
• use extra voice and media amplification
• be sensitive to declining vision and related problems for some older learners
• allow adequate time for adjustments when going from light to dark area or vice versa, such as showing a film
• ensure that lots of light is available
• reduce glare or direct sunlight
• use high contrast on visuals and handout material
• use methods and techniques that emphasise visual as well as interactive and aural approaches; deemphasize haptic, kinaesthetic, or olfactory approaches
• be sensitive to memory losses and the corresponding impact on assimilating new information
• be sensitive to life satisfaction needs
• be sensitive to the manner of the presentation
• read material aloud where possible or feasible
• use combined auditory and visual presentation modes
• carry out diagnostic evaluations of learners’ needs, abilities, and limitations
• minimise distractions at the time of the learning, including background noise, room conditions, and personal anxiety
• pay attention to various obstacles that can interfere with learning
• pay attention to the physical environment
• analyse the environment and ensure that comfortable heating and proper ventilation exist
• reduce distractions
• take appropriate breaks
• provide for those with limited mobility and help learners accommodate for declining energy level or occasional depression

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