Lifelong Learning: How to Motivate Adult Learners

Infographic of a woman holding up a soprano ukulele in the air.

Lifelong Learning

Tuesday teatime finds me tuning up the ukulele. I’ve got a lesson later this evening, but just enough time for a swift strum beforehand - the old ‘homework on the bus’ routine. Molly (one of our cats) is determinedly unimpressed. I’m Somewhere Over the Rainbow, she’s Somewhere Under the Sofa, but at least we’re sharing the space.

Halfway through the second verse, the WhatsApp group pings into action. Not everyone can make tonight’s session, and all absences must be justified and accounted for. The car is at the garage! The office lurgy has struck again! City are playing at home. (Oh well, priorities….). It takes me back to the carefully composed excuses of my teaching days, running the gamut from “The dog ate my homework” all the way to “The homework ate my dog.” (“Dali, see me at the end.”).

I wonder how much we actually change as learners as we get older. Are we, essentially, carbon copies of our younger selves, trapped in old-person clothes? For all our adult swagger, it only takes a simple question, usually along the lines of “Who’s practised this one?” to get us all appreciating our footwear.

That said, there’s no real jeopardy. This is something we’ve chosen to commit to, essentially for a bit of fun after work on a Tuesday. If we haven’t quite got the hang of one tune, then no worries, there’ll be another one along in a minute. It’s not like we’re learning something fundamental.

Over 7 million people in the UK don’t have that luxury. This is the number of adults who are classed as functionally illiterate; in other words, lacking the literacy necessary to cope with most jobs and everyday situations.

It’s something we think about a lot at Lexonik. Many of our learners will have been failed by traditional teaching methods; we present them with something exciting and innovative to provoke a different response. This applies equally to SEND/EAL students beginning Lexonik Leap as much as to our mainstream learners, embarking on Lexonik Advance.

As a former teacher and now Lexonik trainer, I’ve watched our programmes empower children and young people, from top juniors right through to 6th formers. But what happens when those school gates close and we reach adulthood? How is andragogy, learning for adults, different from the more child-centred pedagogy?

Google tips on motivating adults to learn, and the same suggestions keep reappearing.

Training must be seen as relevant, either to career or personal growth aspirations. Pre- and post- testing is essential to define the skills gap and motivate change. Learning should be exploratory, active rather than passive, and mistakes definitely need to be seen as OK. Gamification is recommended - incentivising learning through fun and games, which foster competition, small wins and curiosity about the learning experience.

I’ve written previously about Philip Morley and, more famously, Jay Blades, and how dyslexia shaped both their childhood and adult learning experiences. Recently I came across another inspirational figure, ex-offender turned criminal justice champion, David Breakspear. David features in one of our Vocabulary Detectives podcasts and speaks passionately about the importance of education in the criminal justice system.

As a mentor for the Shannon Trust, it’s no surprise that a significant proportion of adults he encounters have had a disrupted education. 40% of prisoners have been permanently excluded from school, one in three have a learning disability or difficulty, and many others have neurodivergent conditions such as autism or dyspraxia.

He speaks from experience when he describes the anxiety and fear that can be triggered in a surprisingly word-heavy environment where everything from an induction booklet to a menu is a potential source of humiliation.

In this world, the ‘motivating adults’ tips are even more important. Happily, Lexonik intervention programmes tick all these boxes and more, providing age-appropriate and bespoke resources, even including restorative justice terms within language and vocabulary activities. Courses are designed to ensure both rapid impact plus sustained progress in the longer term, boosting confidence and, ultimately, employability.

A few years back, I joined Katy Parkinson, our Founder Director, on a prison visit in the North East of England. The plan was to introduce a small group of men to Lexonik Advance, and, in so doing, provide them with the skills to teach the course to their fellow inmates.

At first, they were hesitant, unsure as to what they’d been signed up for. To be honest, they’d rather not be involved at all, thanks. Katy, however, was undaunted. As a true believer, she offered to meet them halfway. How about they stuck with us until their first break? Then, if they didn’t like it, they’d be free to return to their wing. At least they’d have given it a chance. However, if they did like it...

Reluctantly, they agreed.

They stayed with us for two full days.

Ian Jones

Senior Regional Trainer

If you feel like you want to learn more about our intervention programmes check them out here or if you’re looking for advice, get in touch.