Evaluating the Adult Learner


According to Fenwick & Parsons (2009, p. 19), “[a]dults have rather fragile egos”. They elaborate on this statement by comparing an adult’s ego to one of a child’s. A child is not in control of their life and is frequently presented with problems that they have to solve, whether they want to or not. In contrast, an adult is in control of their life and poses their own problems to solve. Transitioning back to having problems given to you and being evaluated can bring back harsh memories for adults and can result in resentment towards the teacher.


I can recall the point in my life when I transitioned from embracing evaluation to despising it. In high school, mathematics was my favourite subject (and it still is). I enjoyed it because I could solve problems how I wanted and explore areas that were of interest to me. My grade ten mathematics teacher did not agree with my approach to learning and this reflected in my test scores. In later studies, I found myself having to think how my teachers thought instead of how I thought and I did not like this approach to my learning.


I can now see what my grade ten mathematics teacher, and many other teachers, where trying to help me with. They were trying to improve my metacognitive capabilities. I initially put up my defenses and thought I was personally being attacked, but I now realize that thinking about my thinking helps me improve my learning. It enables my teachers to assess me better, and in turn I learn more effectively and perform better on evaluations. The metacognitive skills that I have been developing also carry over into my professional and personal life and enable me to solve everyday problems more effectively.


The courses I teach have a heavy emphasis on problem solving and “[i]n order to effectively solve problems, students often need to understand how their mind functions” (Downing, Kwong, Chan, & Lam, 2009, p. 610). When showing the class or an individual student how to solve a problem, I need to ensure that I am also demonstrating my thinking process. I must not forget that “[a]s instructors, we need to remember what happens when adults who consider themselves competent, self-reliant, and self-directing are once again in a learning situation” (Fenwick & Parsons, 2009, p. 20). Just as I resented some of my previous teachers, my students may resent me for challenging the way they think, so I need to ensure to the student that I am trying to improve their learning capabilities and not hinder them.


Downing, K., Kwong, T., Chan, S.-W., & Lam, T.-F. (2009). Problem-based learning and the development of metacognition. Higher Education, 57(5), 609-621.

Fenwick, T. J., & Parsons, J. (2009). The Art of Evaluation: A Resource for Educators and Trainers (Second ed.). Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.


About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
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