The Negative Consequences of Stereotyping Adult Learners
Successful learners have been identified as having particular personal traits. One of the roles for a teacher is to provide a learning environment that recognises where such traits may need further development. Recognising learner diversity is an important part of creating this successful learning environment, as students from different backgrounds may differ in their development needs. Often this diversity is acknowledged according to identifiable sub-groups whose members share particular characteristics. In some cases such identification may allow for a correct analysis of learner needs. However, when this recognition leads to rigid stereotyping there may be negative consequences. Students who do not fit traditional models associated with their sub-group may feel greater pressure than if the diversity had not been acknowledged. Stereotyping can also lead to the teacher holding an inaccurate perception as to student learning traits and abilities. An inaccurate perception can mean that the teacher is not providing the correct learning environment to meet learner needs. This paper looks at popular assumptions arising from teaching theory as to adult learners and then compares these ideas with social, cultural and educational factors that influence adult learners in New Zealand. The conclusion reached is that it may be better to view students as individuals rather than assigning them characteristics thought to be common for their ‘grouping’.
Keywords: Learning theory, Adult learners, Diversity
Lecturer, School of Accountancy and Business Law, Massey University
Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. Feona Sayles is a lecturer and her teaching commitments are in Commercial Law, Criminal Law, and Sport Law. Feona has worked for Massey since 2003. Her research interests include, criminal law, media, and sports law. She is currently researching female criminal offenders. Feona is also interested in teaching practice and use of innovation in teaching.