by Marc Anderson

Learn English Online – Helpful Considerations for the Adult ESL Learner

Turkey --- Young people hanging out.

Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.

Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams -2nd President of the US; mother of John Quincy Adams – 6th President of the US

Understanding the principles of andragogy, teaching strategies for adult learners, just might help you on your journey to learn English online. Malcolm Knowles, an American Adult Educator, is credited with the adoption of the theory of androgyny. He outlines six such principles that can also be applicable to adult learners, and in this case the ESL adult learner.

1. Adults want to know the why behind learning.  Does this describe you or some other adult you know?  Children are known for their curiosity as young as age 2 with their repeated questioning of “Why?” But Knowles claims that adults also are curious over the “Why?” and especially when it comes to the “why” behind learning and the “why” of having to learn something. Do you ever wonder what a particular word or phrase in the English language means, or how or why a certain English language pattern is used the way it is? Are you curious about a certain part of speech or what the difference is between two very similar words? Do you ever wonder why it is important to learn such and such, or to practice some English lesson over and over again?

Think for a while. Jot down anything related to the English language that you have always wanted to know more about.  It might be a helpful for you to keep an ongoing journal of your thoughts.  When you study online English, you can ask your teacher any number of questions. By targeting precisely what you want to know or why you need to learn something, your English will improve so much more. And in general, teachers really like their students to ask questions. They like for their students to take charge of their own learning and to share in their students “understanding” of when that learning occurs. So ask questions. Understand why something is being taught. And continue to ask questions as you learn English online.

variety of English words and learning

2. Adults want their learning to be applicable to their lives. Do you ever think about how a certain ESL lesson relates to you either now or in the future? Have you ever wondered how some facet of learning applies to your life?  Learning research does support that fact that when learners are more engaged in learning relevant material, they are more apt to learn. They are more motivated to learn and they excel at higher rates. As an ESL learner, and as an ESL adult learner, this is no different.  When you are engaged in learning relevant material, you are more apt to learn. You are more motivated to learn and you will excel at a higher rate. That is what quality teaching and optimal learning is all about.

As an ESL learner, you need to use the English language in as many activities as possible and for purposes that relate to your life so you get the most value out of ESL instruction. To learn English online is a strong avenue for you to experience these real-life skills. Your ESL teacher can provide role-playing activities based on your present need if you help provide some insights that apply to your present life like getting a driver’s license, registering for a class, and informing a doctor about your present health. You can pretend to talk on the phone to the bank or order something at a department store, etc. Your ESL language lessons can be tailor made to match your needs at the present time. When you learn English online, ESL teachers will use authentic materials in these activities whenever possible like role-playing, listening to recorded messages on a phone and reading classified advertisements in the newspaper to buy something or to find a possible job, to look for suitable housing or to read an editorial or obituary and understand the meaning behind the words.   Online ESL teachers have been trained to move toward using language as a tool to accomplish communication tasks and not only focus on isolated grammar, forms and structures.  For instruction, they use an abundance of materials from “real life” to include newspapers, magazines, signs, sale flyers, telephone books, handbooks, brochures and letters. These help ESL learners connect what they are learning to the real world and help familiarize themselves with the formats and information in such publications that they encounter on a daily basis. It helps the student to sharpen their own knowledge and to transfer these skills to similar situations in the future.

Young lady at sea with watermelon

3. Adults are practical, problem-solving learners. Did you ever experience the “ah-ha” moment when you solved a problem or heard someone else share a different point of view? Do you remember how you felt? Did you ever get an idea because you “piggy backed” off of someone else’s idea? Or perhaps your idea helped someone get a “better” or different idea?  Do you realize that your listening skills and speaking skills improve when you communicate with others, when you work together in group situations, and when you use English more often? These are some of the reasons that educators like to use practical problem solving situations in their classrooms and when providing online instruction.

Maybe you enjoy reading, researching, and discussing about something that is important to you more than a random topic or problem that might not be as interesting to you. Well, within the area of ESL learning and teaching, the method of using practical, problem- solving is often used.  Students learn the target language (in this case English) by using it through solving real, open-ended problems. Students work to understand a particular problem and then to find possible solutions for it. The online English teacher would provide an appropriate problem to work on and assist with materials to solve the problem.  The teacher gives necessary feedback and support throughout the process. The goal is to solve the problem, but the language and literacy skills increase throughout the problem-solving process.   ESL research and practice have long recognized the value of meaningful classroom interactions between individuals. When you learn English online, you can have direct communication with your teacher. There are also various groups of people who you can chat online with in group conversation settings, etc. to improve your English skills or you may elect to study ESL in a group learning format (e.g. your entire department at work or your company, etc.) which is often the case when you decide to learn English online.  Role plays, repetition and dialogues all promote second language acquisition. Learners become more autonomous learners who transfer their skills learned from online English instruction to their lives outside the classroom. For adult ESL learners, problems directly associated with their everyday lives can be both practical and motivating to work on.  When connections that are meaningful are made, then more interest in and mastery of English language occurs. This in turn helps to build more confidence, so more language is used and more fluency obtained.

female photographer girl shooting photography icons

4. Adults have reservoirs of experience that help serve as resources to their ongoing learning. This is one of the reasons why ESL teachers need to find out about the background of their students. Knowing about their students’ prior years of schooling, their home life and culture will help the teachers to plan for relevant instruction that is individualized to meet the experience level of each student. When you learn English online, you should be willing to share information to help maximize the ESL instruction. Do you have a degree in a certain field or training in an area of expertise?  You may know of other specifics (related to your life, concerns or goals) that you may want to share with your teacher. What is your in your reservoir of experience?  Can you think of things you know that can impact your ESL learning?

For the most learning to occur, it is important to be exposed to language that is at your level or slightly above your level of comprehension. This way, you are more apt to learn new vocabulary words and improve your oral listening, speaking and reading ability. You can see this in other activities that you are engaged in like when you play tennis with someone better than you, you get better. Have you experienced this?  Do you find this to be true, too?

seniors relaxing on a walk

5. Adults are self-directed in their learning. Learners need enough time for language activities, for communication with one another, and to monitor their ongoing progress. It is better to work on one or two objectives at a time, to master these and then move on. It is not necessary to constantly correct errors unless you as a student want that approach. It is more important to work on activities that focus on the overall ability to communicate meaning and in areas that you as a student wish to learn.

It is also important to limit “teacher talk”, the amount of time that the teacher gives directions, explanations, and general comments. It is better for the teacher to use pictures, gestures, demonstrations, and facial expressions to reinforce learning rather than to provide long drawn-out explanations wherever possible and allow a maximum time for the student to talk. When you learn English online, a direct teaching method is often used where the teacher talks 20% of the time and the student talks 80% of the time. This is ideal for learning and improving English.

sailing man reading tablet computer on boat with modern technology and carefree retired senior successful lifestyle

6. Adults respond more to intrinsic motivators than extrinsic motivators. Maybe you knew this already. It’s okay to give yourself a pat on the back and some rewards along the way. But if you stop and think a little, you might agree that learning for the sake of learning is motivating in itself. Maybe you were able to say something in English on the subway or at a restaurant this week that you couldn’t say last week. Or you might be able to read a section of the newspaper now or understand something more clearly when you read online.  How about remembering what your beginning writing looked like and comparing that to your writing skills today? What about listening?  How much have you improved in this area?  Sometimes it just takes a few minutes to remember how far we have come in our learning to help us to continue on that path. This is what truly gives us motivation. To see our progress and to reach goals will help motivate us to learn even more.

Again, the more you speak in English, the more you learn. Speaking English the majority of time in an English lesson helps you to speed up your rate of learning. Before long, you will have achieved your goals in learning English. Remember that learning is not attained by chance.  To learn English online (in the words of Abigail Adams) …must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.

students writing an exam or test

Please write to me using the comments section below and let me know what you think about these teaching strategies for adult learners. Do you have anything to add to the article? Is there something that really helped you to learn English? Please share that with me, too, so other ESL learners can benefit. And if you want to learn English online and have specific questions about how this works, let me know. We have all sorts of programs and options for individuals and corporations. I will be glad to help you on your quest to learn English every step of the way.

Additional Reading Resources

http://infed.org/mobi/malcolm-knowles-informal-adult-education-self-direction-and-andragogy/ Malcolm Knowles’ theories of adult education

http://www.qotfc.edu.au/resource/?page=65375  Adult learning principles

http://www.joe.org/joe/2006december/tt5.php Training and needs of the adult learners

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/547417_2  An overview of the adult learning process

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andragogy  Andragogy overview

http://learningtheoriesetc547.wikispaces.com/Malcolm+Knowles Adult learning theories

About the author:

Marc Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of TalktoCanada. Since founding the company in 2006, he has grown it to over 25 staff with operations in 50 countries. Marc spends his time outside of TalktoCanada travelling, playing with his son and working on new business projects.

  • Kacey Laci

    A fantastic blog with nice information to learn english.