Immediacy: Why It’s Important In Teaching Adults

to do list, immediacy, One of the cornerstones of working with adult learners is that they need to see the immediate usefulness of the information, skill, knowledge, attitude, etc. they are working towards attaining. If you doubt this, just think back to the last workshop or educational seminar you attended.

Did you not sit there trying to see how the information presented was applicable to your circumstances? If it wasn’t, most likely you stopped paying close attention, and perhaps started to develop your to do or shopping list.

Adult learners (and young adults as well), are willing to work in a sequence, and understand the need for reinforcement, but they want to spend their time studying something that makes a difference in the here and now. As teachers we need to recognize this, and develop our educational materials and lessons with this in mind.

For example, if I have a student that comes in and wants to learn how to play blues saxophone, I would develop my lessons so that when the student left my studio each week, they would have another tool for their tool kit that they could practice. This might be a new scale, effect, (growl, false fingering), or whatever.

Over time, my student’s tool kit should be getting full of some useful tools, and, if I’m doing my job well, the knowledge of when and how to use them, and perhaps more importantly, how not to overuse them. That’s how I see things as a teacher.

From the student’s perspective however, their need for immediacy has been fulfilled, because they are leaving my studio with something new; something they didn’t have before they arrived 30 or 60 minutes ago. Maybe they just learned some false fingerings for the first time, and for the next week are going to spend time practicing how to use those new fingers in improvisations along with their practice CD.

While this isn’t rocket science, it is surprising how many times even experienced instructors fall into the trap of forgetting the principle of immediacy. Students need to see the immediate relevancy of what they are learning, or else they are at risk of becoming one of the many, in the large percentage of learners who start something, and then give up.  


Helen holds a Master of Adult Education degree from St. Francis Xavier University, and has been an adult educator since the mid 1980s. She has taught saxophone and music since high school, and has been an adult educator in numerous health-related fields for both the not-for profit sector, and post secondary institutions.

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