It is very important that every interaction between adults contains certain elements that focus on learning – about each other, about what we know  already, and what we want to learn from each other. 


Personal motivation is acknowledged as a critical factor in success as is being in an inviting environment where active participation in a learning process is emphasised. 

Adults learn best in an informal situation and when the specific goal of the learning exercise is “owned” by the individual. 

Adults require information that will help them improve their situation. They do not want to be told what to do. They want to choose options based on their individual needs and learning strengths. Adults generally start with a problem and then work to find a solution.  

Often older adults face challenges which can curtail ongoing learning. Resilience however, is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to loss or change. While some individuals can remain positive and adapt, others may feel quite overwhelmed by their changed circumstances. The role of a coach includes inspiring and empowering the older adult to feel they can succeed in continued learning.

…I’m too old to learn…

…Another thing I can’t do…

Issues of self-esteem
self-worth may emerge

There are many adult educators who have written on the subject of the fragile adult learner.  It is particularly relevant when discussing the older learners in our community. 

As we get progressively older, we find ourselves disengaging from our formal work life routines and other regular “connecting activities” such as sporting or social clubs.  Issues of self-esteem and self-worth may emerge.  In our eyes, our “status” associated with our personality and performance may begin to change and decline.

At the same time, our network of friends, family and community associates may become smaller. We may tend to mix with less people with diverse interests and backgrounds and this may mean we have limited opportunities to expand our knowledge and learn new skills. 

Researchers have found that each of us, over time, develop a preferred and consistent set of behaviours or approaches to learning. 

Older adults may need to be reassured that they are very capable of learning new skills and this will strengthen their overall resilience and positivity. 

By developing an understanding of the different learning styles and applying them appropriately, older adults’ feel energised and empowered.

  1. Felder, R. M. (1988). Learning Styles and Strategies. Retrieved from Teaching and Learning STEM:

Reflective Learner

To support reflective learners, stop now and again to review what has been covered. They may want to ask questions, but give them some time to think about what it is they want to know. It can also be helpful for them to write a short summary.

The Reflective learner will:

  • Think about how they will use what they have learnt. 
  • Put ideas into practice.
  • Prefer learning alone and will want to think things through.

Active Learner

To assist the active learner, spend time discussing and problem solving the topic. Active learners will remember information better if they are actively applying it or explaining it to others.

The Active learner will:

  • Learn through doing activities.
  • Enjoy learning in groups and problem solving, and will want to try things out to see if they work.

Verbal Learner

Verbal learners can be assisted by being exposed to different explanations and even better when they are given the opportunity to explain it back to you

The Verbal Learner will:

  • Prefer the spoken and written word.
  • Enjoy reading and writing.
  • Learn more when asked to explain, and may play on the meaning or sounds of words. 

Visual Learner

For the visual learner, information is best remembered when key points are in boxes or circles and arrows are drawn between ideas or information that is connected. Colour coding using a highlighter can also be useful.

The Visual Learner will:

  • Learn best from what they can see.

For example, Pictures, films, demonstrations, flow charts, photographs, films and diagrams.

Global Learner

Outlining the big picture of what you are planning to do is vital for the global learner. It is also useful to find connections and relate things back to information the older adult already knows. 

The Global Learner will:

  • Learn things in large chunks.
  • Not always see the connections until suddenly they will ‘get it’.
  • Solve complex problems quickly and put things together using innovative ways

Sequential Learners

As the name indicates, sequential learners require the steps of a task to be delivered in an ordered and logical sequence. Do not jump from step to step as this will cause confusion. Progress steadily when completing a task rather than moving too quickly.

The Sequential Learner will:

  • Gain understanding in solid steps and each step needs to follow logically from the previous one. 
  • They like to focus on one part of a project, get it done, and then move on.

Intuitive Learners

The intuitive learner prefers not to have to learn information by rote and will find this boring. They much prefer making connections that link facts together. They dislike repetition and are much more comfortable with concepts. 

The Intuitive Learner:

  • Likes innovation.
  • Doesn’t like repetition and are good at grasping new concepts and discovering possibilities.

Sensing Learners

Sensing learners like to connect information to the real world and will find it difficult if the information is abstract or theoretical. Being able to explain how a procedure works in practice will support their learning. 

Sensing Learners:

  • Like factual information.
  • Are good at memorising facts.
  • Are practical, careful and solve problems using well-established methods.
  • They don’t like complications or surprises and value sensory input (what is seen, heard, touched or smelt)
Topic challenge:Learning Style Scenarios Next topic:Strengths and Motivation