Tips for Counseling Adult Learners

Adult learners bring to the learning situation, years of experience but also a lot more baggage than the youth learners. As such it is critical for adult educators to be aware of the kinds of issues they could expect to deal with in a counseling session. There may be issues of divorce, child care, family relationships, personal interactions all of which, if unresolved, could have a negative impact on the adult’s ability to be successful.

I recall having to counsel a student who was having great difficulty finishing her assignments on time. When I got to the bottom of it, it became apparent that her marriage was on the rocks. She was torn between continuing her studies and just giving up and concentrating on her domestic issues. Others may have problems more on an internal level. They may feel they just don’t get it or can’t get it. This is very daunting for the adult learner, as it is very easy to feel like a failure or to have too high expectations.

With this in mind, here are some tips for counseling the adult learners:

1) Assist the adult learner to understand what the issue is. This may require a lot of listening, asking them what they think the problem is and allowing them to bring it to the surface and identify it, without the need to push them in a certain direction.

2) Paraphrase, the key points being made. This will allow the learner to focus on the point and give meaning to it. Saying things like “What I hear you saying is…” affords the learner the opportunity to rephrase the problem or clarify your understanding of the issue.

3) Empathize. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to say “I am sorry”, or “I feel your pain”.
You can empathize simply by acknowledging with body language, eye contact, listening actively not passively, and by relating some of your own experiences in a similar situation and how you felt.

4) Help the adult learner to come up with solutions. Never, say, “I think this is what you should do”. Remember, it is not your problem so the solution has to come from the client. Your role is to merely guide the client’s thought process, provide them with problem solving tips and guide them in making credible choices.

Your job is by no means done when you close the door on a counseling session. Evaluate the session and be sure to follow up with the adult learner. He/she should be given the opportunity to meet with you again to assess how the plan is working. While you don’t create the solutions, depending on the problem, you may be in a position to facilitate the changes that are to take place and be a valuable support mechanism for the adult learner.