Adults approach learning differently than children. While a child may accept an authority figure in the classroom imparting knowledge, the adult is not.
Often published articles about music instruction and playing refer to children and their psychological and educational development compared to students that do not study music. How an adult learns is an important issue to consider while formulating music instruction.
Some areas to contemplate if you are studying music or teach music to adults are:
Adults generally assume independence and expect to take part in the process of developing instruction as well as an active position in the evaluation of their performance. They prefer to work at their own pace in the areas they choose and feel that their “grade” or result should match their expectations of what they should receive.
The best avenue of instruction for an adult then is not a large classroom with an authoritative instructor but either through independent study, where they in a sense act as the student and the instructor themselves, or one-on-one with a respectful tutor that facilitates the attainment of knowledge.
Level of Physical Comfort
Kindergarten students may sit around in a circle on the floor or a high school student may concede to sit in a small desk with a hard wooden seat, but adults prefer and demand comfort. Some adults are set in their ways so to speak, they “like it how they like it,”period.
To address the desired comfort level of adults either the classroom accommodates, or they choose to hire a tutor to instruct in their home or they learn through an independent course at home. They might also want to consider the instrument they choose in relation to how it is played. For example, a smoker that gets winded quickly might have more success learning the guitar or piano as opposed to a wind instrument like a saxophone or trombone.
Insecurity or Embarassment
Some adults are uncomfortable learning new things or not knowing how to do things. In their employment or at home, they may feel confident about their abilities and problem solving skills but in a new situation, they may feel inadequate or awkward. To counteract these feelings of insecurity, embarrassment or inadequacy adults usually overcompensate by trying to do everything perfectly, they ask the instructor many probing questions to try to focus information and requirements, and take their time to accomplish tasks in order to avoid mistakes.
In music instruction, the adult wants all the information they can get a hold of, they are less inclined to try things without some kind of knowledge base. Whereas a child may blow into a trumpet and not worry about how badly it sounds, whether they know how to read the music or where to put their fingers, they do it just for fun, adults want to master it and not “make a fool of themselves.”
The instructor or teaching method needs to be able to respond to the adults’ intense need for detail and affirmation. While an adult may do well in a formal education setting for a music theory or history class, when in comes to playing an instrument private instruction is a better choice to put the student at ease and allows for plenty of inquiries.
Prior Experience and Application
Young students have few experiences to afford them the ability to imagine a ‘real life’ application of knowledge. Adults may have decades of knowledge and experiences brought into the classroom with them and they can see how information may apply to other aspects of their life or to other areas of study.
When an adult is learning to play music, they want to be able to apply their knowledge and experiences. So many adults do not desire to learn music just for the sake of it, but to be able to play at their church or in a band or to compose their own music. They come to learn music with a goal and prior expectations.
Adults that desire to learn music are goal oriented, exercise autonomy, and require respect and comfort. So if you are planning to learn a new skill, such as playing the piano, or you are a teacher planning your curriculum consider the unique requirements of the adult student.
Kearsley, Greg. Explorations in Learning & Instruction: The Theory into Practice Database Andragogy (M. Knowles). http://tip.psychology.org/knowles.html>
Lieb, Stephen. Principle of Adult Learning. http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committtees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/adults-2.htm>
Smith, M. K. planning your curriculum ‘Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and anadragogy’, the encyclopedia of informal education. http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-knowl.htm.>