• Latviešu valoda
  • English

Methods in Adult Education

Choosing the right methods plays an important role in making the teaching process interesting by creating positive group dynamics and helping the participants to learn. However, methods are just a means for achieving the envisaged objective. In order to succeed, the teacher must have a clear idea of what he/she wants to accomplish. This section includes information about different types of methods and tips for putting them to good use.

Classification of methods

The term method is rather vague – it can be used to describe any kind of activity in the classroom, starting from a small ice-breaking exercise to complex project work. All of this is like comparing pliers to a tower crane.

A feasible way for grouping methods is to look at the level of activity they promote and the extent to which the teaching process is centred around the teacher. At one end are methods that are used for one-way communication, in which activity on the part of the participants does not play a significant role. At the other end are methods that promote autonomous learning.

One-way communication
Informing, explaining, convincingLecture
Loosening upGetting to know each other, relieving tension, promoting communicationIce-breaking exercises
EngagementActive involvement of participants and sharing of responsibility, sharing informationGroup work
Autonomous workParticipants taking on full responsibility regarding content and processesProject work

In recent years different forms of e-learning have become more available and widespread. Though the tools that are used for communication and interaction are new, the above classification remains valid for e-learning as well. In e-learning one can also differentiate between courses in which the whole content is predetermined by the teacher and the participants are put into the role of passive learners, and courses that are based on the active interaction and autonomy of the participants.

Obstacles in using interactive methods

One-way communication continues to dominate all educational areas: schools, higher education, vocational training, and in-service training. Though the need for teaching approaches that truly put the learners, their needs, and their expertise at the centre is widely acknowledged, its implementation proves to be difficult.

It is not very difficult to apply methods for making a teacher-centred course more interesting and more effective. It is much more difficult to create a true learning space in which the participants take on an active role in determining the teaching process in which the content is based upon their experience and needs and in which the teacher’s main role is to be a facilitator. A number of obstacles exist:

Formal requirements

The teacher must often act within formal restraints that make the application of interactive methods difficult or even impossible, for example, situations in which the content and outcomes are predetermined by the curriculum, time and other resources are limited, or the number of participants is too high.


As stated before, one-way communication has a number of advantages that make it the preferred choice for many teachers: the number of participants does not matter, it is possible to deal with a great amount of content in a short period of time, the content itself can be prepared beforehand and used repeatedly, and the teacher has complete control of the teaching process.

Teachers must learn to lose a great deal of control over the teaching process and must be prepared to leave their comfort zone to try something new with an open outcome.


The traditional education system promotes a “consumer mentality” towards education: Learners attend a course with the expectation that it is the teacher’s role to provide them with the required knowledge and skills, which puts them into a passive role. But a learner-centred course requires the active engagement of the learners; the learners must become co-responsible for the learning outcomes.

Motivation is a core ingredient of learning. In reality, however, learners often attend education courses in order to gain a certificate or diploma, and their willingness for active engagement is therefore rather low. Another problem can be that adult learners must divide their attention between learning, work, and family.

The role of methods in the teaching process

The selection of methods determines the role of the teacher and vice versa. If the chosen method is a lecture, the teacher takes on the role of an expert. If the chosen method is group work, the teacher becomes a facilitator. The teacher should consider appropriate methods for each role he/she would like to take on.

Much more important than selecting the right method is the teacher’s attitude.

First of all, the teacher must consider what he/she wants to achieve:

  • To present information in a comprehensible way?
  • To ensure that participants learn what is required by the curriculum?
  • To stimulate reflection and critical thinking?
  • To make use of the learners’ expertise and creative potential?

Depending on the set objective, the teacher’s attitude towards the course content, teaching process, and the participants will change. The following questions will help to balance content, aims, and methods:

To whom? What do you know about the participants and their needs?

What? What do you want to achieve, what information do you want to pass on, what skills must be developed, what changes in attitude are required?

How? What methods are best suited to achieve these aims?

Why? This is the most important question of all: What will the participants gain from what you say and the methods you use?

This work by Toms Urdze is licensed under
CC BY-SA 4.0