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What Adults Can Learn From Kids

In this article, we compare the challenges of teaching technology to adults with the challenges of teaching technology to children. What can adults learn from how kids learn?

We recently piloted Adult Fundamentals of Technology at Lakeway Activity Center with two sessions of 4-6 adult students. The class is designed to foster tech skills in adults who may not have had much experience with technology. The goals of this class are to facilitate Communication, Confidence, and Curiosity when it comes to the world of technology.

Each session is 4 weeks long and plans to cover the following topics. In reality, we found that we could have spent a full month covering each topic.

Week 1 - Desktop

Week 2 - Email

Week 3 - Smartphones

Week 4 - The Internet

The adult students were invited to bring their own laptops and cell phones while our instructor customized the content to address their questions. It was interesting to compare the instructors' experience teaching adults versus teaching kids in our after-school classes and camps. Basically, we have noticed that kids pick up new skills faster then adults because they have more confidence and less fear. More specifically, our takeaways include the following:

Adults need more initiative

In our classes, we observed that adults are more concerned about what might go wrong if they click the wrong button, for example. Our adult students are initially more hesitant and prefer to observe rather than interact. Adults need confidence and to overcome fear. If you give a kid a cable to plug into a robot or take them to a new website, they will usually start engaging immediately. Kids are not afraid or concerned about consequences. Their approach is to try it and see what happens.

While kids need support and guidance, their initiative is wonderful for learning. We suspect that adults would have fewer challenges with their mobile phones and computers if they had more initiative and were less concerned about doing something wrong. Fear inhibits learning. It prevents curiosity and reduces confidence.

Adults need to ask questions

In our classes, we observed that adults often had trouble articulating what they don't know and did not speak up if information was not clear. Our instructor will cover topics and ask if anyone has questions, but the students' confusion and lack of understanding was not apparent until further probing and we often felt lucky to have stumbled upon an area that needed clarity. On the other hand, it is quicker for us to uncover lack of understanding in our after-schools classes for kids. In fact, kids are often asking questions while we are helping other kids and often times, they may be asking the same questions.

While it requires patience working with kids who shout out their questions or ask the same questions as others, their curiosity and drive is good for learning. Adults are inhibited by their concern of asking "dumb" questions, but no questions are dumb, and repetition and reinforcement is necessary for learning. Questions are a way of repeating information. Also, there are often other adults with the same question and conversation leads to other questions and topics. It's the same way adults learn by teaching. Adults also learn by asking.

Adults need to be active learners

In our classes, we observed that adults do not engage or interact with technology regularly or unless asked. They did not touch things unless explicitly asked to perform a task. Kids, on the other hand, hate to be bored and always want to be active physically and mentally. Kids cannot help but to touch objects they are curious about.

While kids can be challenging because of their desire to move or touch things and to be active at all times, their energy is refreshing and great for learning. They are at both difficult to teach and easy to teach. They struggle to sit still because they are active learners. If you give a child a Raspberry Pi or Microbit device, they are quick to grab it and plug in the right cables and make things happen. Adults need to be active and feel empowered with less fear of technology.

In summary, children do not struggle with technology like adults do because they are confident and fearless. They are active learners who dive right into a challenge. While teaching children requires discipline and support in different ways, their energy and curiosity is inspiring. Our Adult Fundamentals of Technology class was designed to facilitate Communication, Confidence, and Curiosity when it comes to the world of technology. These values are significant to the learning process, and we can learn so much from kids by the way they engage and learn tech.


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