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Guide To Teaching Older Adults

OLLI-RU's administration and Advisory Council understand that teaching older adults might be new to you even though you may have been a professional teacher for some time. To that end, we have created a shortlist of best practices that could be useful.

We begin with a definition of a typical OLLI-RU class participant and some reasons s/he enrolls in courses. An OLLI-RU class participant is an active, eager, well-educated, inquisitive, older adult.

OLLI-RU class participants enroll in courses for a number of reasons:

  • Interest in a topic because of previous knowledge. This could mean some relatively in-depth knowledge related to the participant’s previous work life.
  • Interest in a topic to extend knowledge. This could mean familiarity but mostly as an avocational pursuit, not due to life's work.
  • Interest in a topic out of curiosity or relevance. This could mean little to no knowledge but rather an avid interest to learn something new.

There are undoubtedly other reasons that draw OLLI-RU participants to courses. Each course is made up of individuals who have some knowledge or motivated to learn more about this topic. No matter what their motivations are for taking a course, expect that the participants will be inquisitive, enthusiastic and eager to enter into discussions. Therefore, we offer these suggestions to assist you in developing your course:

  • Avoid “teaching down” to participants. As per the definition of an OLLI-RU class participant above and the reasons s/he takes classes, it is safe to assume that you will not need to water down your content unless it is of a very technical nature.
  • Speak loudly or request equipment from OLLI-RU to assist participants that have hearing issues.
  • When using Power Point, use between 28-32 point font and one idea per slide
    • Four to five bullet points per slide; five words per bullet
    • Pictures, pictures, pictures- students come to hear what you have to say, not to read text off your slides
  • When preparing handouts, use at least a 12-point font as some participants have vision issues.
  • When writing on the board or on an easel, write largely as the seating arrangement may make it difficult for those who need front row seats to secure them.
  • When writing on the board or an easel, use colors that are easy to read as light colors are difficult to see.
  • When writing on the board or an easel, allow sufficient time for participants to copy the information.
  • Leave time for questions during or at the end of the class as there will certainly be questions.
  • Whenever possible, include class participation in the form of discussion or other active teaching/learning models as OLLI-RU members expect it.