1. Students feel safe and supported. There is a learning environment in which individual needs and uniqueness are honored, where abilities and achievements are acknowledged and respected.

  2. Intellectual freedom is fostered, and experimentation and creativity are encouraged.

  3. Faculty treat adult students as peers — respected as intelligent, experienced adults. Their opinions are listened to and appreciated.

  4. Self-directed learning is the norm. Students take responsibility for their own learning. They work with faculty to design individual learning programs that address what each person needs and wants to learn in order to function optimally in his or her profession.

  5. Optimal pacing challenges the learner. The ideal pacing for adult learners challenges people just beyond their present level of ability. If they are pushed too far beyond that level, people give up. If challenged too little, they become bored and learn little. Adults who reported experiencing high levels of intellectual stimulation — to the point of feeling discomfort — grew more.

  6. Learners are actively involved in the learning experience, as opposed to passively listening to lectures. Students and instructors talk and interact, they try out new ideas in the workplace, and they use exercises and experiences to bolster facts and theory.

  7. Regular feedback mechanisms are in place for students to tell faculty what works best for them and what they want and need to learn. And faculty pay attention: They listen and make changes based on student input.


Dorothy Billington, PhD, is the author of Life Is an Attitude: How to Grow Forever Better. For more information, go to her Web site, www.AdultGrowth.com. This list stems from her own research and is based on the findings of the father of adult education, Malcolm Knowles.