Adult 688 #3: Scenarios with mixed groups

Reflection Question:  How do you see yourself handling a teaching-learning scenario where there are individuals with learning disabilities in a mixed group?

Teaching adults in a learning event where there are disabilities in a mixed group seems a natural progression from the questions asked in the mid-term process.  All learning groups are mixed.  I cannot recall working in one where everyone in the group learned in precisely the same manner and by the same method of instruction. Conversely, I recall very few instances where appreciation for intellectual diversity as well as diverse modalities of learning was offered to me in a learning event.  It is unclear to me if differentiation was offered to a specific individual, which is as it should be.  While I am rather astute in determining the processes employed by a trainer, I am assured that confidentiality was in play if diverse strategies, assessments, evaluations or formal assessments were offered.

As an adult educator, there are many frameworks from which we consider adult programs.  The frameworks I would employ when planning learning events would draw from andragogy, intellectual diversity, and dialogue education.

My assumptions about the adult learner in a training conducted by me would reflect an understanding that Knowles Six Assumptions  (a layperson’s link) are applicable for all learners. The reservoir of learning experience should be a resource for learning in problem solving, internally motivated events (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007).  The teaching strategies that would best engage learners and allow them to flourish are those that welcome intellectual diversity.  Adults with learning differences may approach learning events where respect for their individual difference was not honored and where diverse learners were often unable to design, develop or execute their own learning. Events which welcome heterogeneity allows adult learners to succeed (Rodis & Witherell, 2001).

Human Resource Management:

The purpose of this meeting is to discover the previous learning and training experiences of the individual. I would meet with the team member along with the representative responsible for managing the initial intake of EEOC and ADA forms and procedures. We would begin by engaging the individual in a conversation regarding the previous training/learning which occurred in this organization. Along with a discussion of what is a struggle, I would ask specifically where the “islands of competency” (Rodis & Witherell,2001) lie.  The areas where an individual may shine is an opportunity to discover the type of learner, situation or where how a team member may be paired for success. A conversation of equal measure is one that encourages the team member to share the areas of success in learning in this employment setting.  At this time, I would ask the team member to share the types of accommodations that are in place to ensure a productive workplace setting. I would ask the extent of the involvement of the team member in planning for and in considering which accommodations or learning strategies would be useful.

Human Resource Development:

At the outset of program design, evaluation indicators should be established by those who conduct training and development. Evaluation indicators are designed into the learning experience that will be used to indicate that learning has taken place (Vella, 2008). When planning for learning, I would include the individual, the accommodations which work well for learning. The type (s) of assessments, pre, mid and post assessments are a viable way in which to capture learning in the moment.  Assisted technology tools, which may already be a part of the individual’s plan, can help an adult during a learning event. Low tech assistance, as in the intensity of noise, interaction or conversation, the movement of instruction and the presence of the learning plan being offered ahead of time are simple ways in which to assist individuals who may find learning auditorily a challenge. As a member of training and development, it should be an integral component of the conversation to ask if there is a device that would improve, maintain or assist the functional capabilities of the adult in that setting.

At the conclusion of “Shimmers of Delight and Intellect,” Witherell & Rodis provide a very useful list of suggestions that could most certainly be considered when planning for instruction for intellectually diverse learners. Of the seventeen suggestions provided, all of which are quite useful, these resonate with my experience in adult learning where struggle resides:

  • Teach in ways that respond to the linguistic, culturally and developmental difference of all students.
  • Recognize and affirm the “islands of competency” that reside in every student.
  • Support copious and yet nonpunitive practice in basic literacy skills.

I can foresee that a future role in training and developing adults with diverse learning styles and differences is going to be a challenge.  I have never found it difficult to do what is best for the learner.  Where I find it challenging, is in working within a system that is either unable or unwilling to consider diverse learning for adults.  The last bullet above is one that is so very important to all learners, but I assume even more so for those with a difference.  For example, the last year that I taught in a public school setting is one where a new assessment tool was unveiled to the faculty.  This new program was taught in a large group setting, using a power point, a lecture along with visual images of the computer program. One hour of training with a lack of diverse tools or strategies, with no opportunity to practice this new skill, was so very frustrating for the faculty.  Couple this event with the unveiling of two additional programs presented in the same format was such a poor way in which to train learners. There are diverse learning styles differences in each work setting, however, the thought that the children in classroom settings one day become working adults in an employment setting does not appear to surface on anyone’s radar.  How is this possible?  This was one important event that helped to tip my decision to educate, advocate and support adult learners!

Ultimately, at the core of any learning experience for adults is the learner.  When planning a learning event for an adult with learning differences, I cannot make assumptions about the individual and act on them without the learner.  The self-concept of the learner must be preserved.  Any prior experience that may be poor, exclusionary or collaborative is important to consider in order to allow for readiness to develop.  All adult learners can be motivated to learn in a positive, adult learner-centered, approach.

A new way to think about the word FAIL-first attempt in learning.



Garrod, A., Rodis, P., & Boscardin, M.L. (Eds.), (2001).

          Learning disabilities and life stories. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.

Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S. & Baumgartner, L.M. (2012).

Learning in adulthood.  A comprehensive guide. John Wiley & Sons.

Vella, J. (2008). On teaching and learning: Putting the principles and

         practices of dialogue education into action. John Wiley & Sons.

Something to chew on…   Lab chewing a bone

The self-concept of the adult learner is the most important consideration when planning for instruction. A productive work setting is one in which adults transition from being directed to directing themselves as learners.



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