New research and practical tools are unlocking a wide range of new possibilities for teaching to adults. Learn more at

From home studio development to adult story hours, technology and teaching are both advancing at breakneck speed. New research suggests learning, just as a natural process of growing, can also develop. And the wisdom and experience of the adult learner are now part of the school environment.

One person’s storyteller is another’s storyteller, as is the case with adult learners who learn how to teach their own valued skills. Emily Lawson has been teaching adult learners since she opened Blue Toast Studio ( in 2011.

“There’s this movement to connect learners to the value of their learning. That’s very powerful,” Lawson says. “I work in an old school book store, and there’s an energy in this space that feels like old-school creativity.”

Through Lawson’s workshops, she encourages learners to create a guidebook of skills that they could teach their peers or hire others to do.

“You come in, and no one’s written it down. You come with gifts for the class to learn how to do something,” Lawson says. “At the end of the workshop, I give people things to demonstrate their abilities – like a YouTube video, and a test. It’s kind of like a final exam.”

For Lawson, teaching adult learners is an important passion. She started the studio to teach high school students, but over time she started to engage adult learners. With her help, many students found themselves moving on to grad school and entrepreneurship. Many are now going on to establish adult literacy programs and get involved in work with at-risk youth, using their skills.

Today Lawson’s work is even bigger, with an online offering. She also leads adult learning workshops in schools, through her organization Adult Learning Academy (

Guides to Adult Teaching

Once you’ve learned how to teach, it’s useful to consider some guiding principles, says Peter Draper, author of the recently released Guide to Adult Teaching. These include the following:

Keep the peace. Although your students aren’t your kids, you have to act like one. “It’s a mentoring relationship,” Draper says. He also recommends giving seniors a small allowance, rather than watching them spend it. “You have to remember who you’re teaching. People are smart.”

Stay calm, as any student or teacher will tell you.

Project a vision. Set a goal for yourself in terms of whether you want to accomplish a specific goal with your class. “It doesn’t have to be huge.” Similarly, know the ratio of your room to the amount of people you’re working with and how you want to make things happen. Draper recommends the following exercise for taking this into account:

Have your clients or friends give you a five-word response to this: “How would you improve this activity or building or on how you could improve your class or business?”

You might see this exercise in action, for example, in a class you’re taking on online learning. Your guests might be: young professionals, career changers, entrepreneurs or potential customers. “Get out of the classroom, get out into the world,” Draper advises.

Live your vision. This is a bit more detailed. Set a ceiling on how far you’re willing to take your teaching and when your students can expect you to show up.

It also helps to ask people what they want to get out of learning. Adults want to get out of their jobs, and be taken care of by their friends. “What do you need that you’re currently not getting, and how do you help people fulfill those needs?” Draper suggests. “Then, it might become clear that you’re going to do the same things you’re already doing.”

Draper works as a contributing faculty member at the Center for Citizen Engagement at Ohio State University, and was formerly the Editor-in-Chief of Education Pasta ( He teaches adult learning at Ohio State.


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