Overcoming Anxiety in Adult Education

Anxiety is a common emotion experienced by adult learners. Key to overcoming this anxiety is to understand where it comes from. The reasons for adult education anxiety can be varied. These are a few examples:

  • past negative experiences with education
  • self-doubt and fear of failure based on life experiences or unreasonable expectations
  • intimidated by new technology
  • concern about fitting sessions into their busy schedules

“Adults may be reserved. The last time a learner attended school might have been a while ago, perhaps in a different country. Learners may be apprehensive and unsure of themselves.” – Adult Literacy Program: Virtual Tutor Training

There are some effective methods to help create a sense of confidence, belonging and security in your learners.

  • Create a welcoming learning space. This could be simply adjusting the room-layout, temperature or light levels. If resources allow, decor or music can create a relaxing and inviting ambience. If in a classroom environment, allow for social time between students.
  • Understand the motivation or need for learning. Get the know the intrinsic need or desire to learn. Adults are much more motivated to learn when it applies to areas that are relevant in their lives, such as a career shift or a changing social role.
  • Relate to their lived experience. Adult learners will engage more with materials that relate to their own experiences. They have a rich source of knowledge and accessing it will help them learn in new areas. Situating new knowledge within the context of existing knowledge will help anchor the new information as well as improve understanding and memory retention. Finding familiar points of reference also helps to reduce anxiety.
  • Create a shared learning experience. Design the learning with the student, not for the student. It’s important that your adult learners feel empowered to influence the learning goals so that they meet their needs and have a sense of control.

“Remember that it takes a lot of courage for adults to return to learning and to readdress skills that many of us take for granted. As a tutor, you can help the adult learner’s return to learning be very different.” – Adult Literacy Program: Virtual Tutor Training

Anxiety in an adult education setting is normal. A important goal for the tutor is to help the learner feel comfortable and empowered with their learning. For more resources on reducing anxiety in adult learners, check out the resources below.


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