Adapting pedagogical approaches to seniors’ specificities as learners
Senior learners are a specific learning group, and therefore learning methods and strategies should be adapted to the needs of this target population. This way, the learning process can be optimized. When choosing a teaching strategy with this target group, several factors should be taken into account.
Firstly, one of the most important factors is the choice of the topic to be covered in the language course. A topic that arouses the learner’s interest will be an important motivating factor at the beginning of the learning process. This is when it is particularly important to capture the learner’s attention at that exact moment. It is therefore important to capture thematic content that is adapted to a group of senior learners. Studies with these target learners have shown that the topics most likely to appeal to them would be memories of their youth, comparison of life styles in different countries, family and friends, everyday situations such as asking for information or ordering in a foreign language, and finally tourist information. These are the themes that can be used to focus the learning situations in order to keep the learners focused and motivated.
But beyond the choice of topics, learning methods are also a central issue in teaching languages to seniors. The first factor to take into account is that this group of learners is specific and often capable of expressing their needs and expectations regarding their learning process, due to their age and life experience. It is therefore beneficial to give them a space to communicate their expectations, and to analyze these in order to integrate them into the pedagogical approach. In addition, it is possible to let them choose the thematic orientation of certain sessions, by letting them express themselves on their life experiences. Seniors have a great amount of knowledge on a variety of topics, and are often happy to share it. It is best to reflect this in the activity plans and programs by providing defined exercises that allow for the sharing of experiences and knowledge on different topics. A key factor to consider is also repetition. Indeed, a major characteristic of this group of learners is memory failure, and it requires even more repetition than when teaching younger learners. It is therefore beneficial to develop repetitive approaches to new material to be learned, in order to allow learners to retain it more durably. Finally, it has been shown that older learners appreciate having some autonomy in the language learning process. Thus, they will tend to voluntarily do homework or prepare their own questions for the following sessions. It is therefore necessary to take this into consideration in the organization of the course, in order to give them a space to share the work that they have done on their own, and why not give them guidelines to orient it according to their needs.
In conclusion, it is imperative to take into consideration the specificities of this group of learners, and to adapt the pedagogical approach accordingly. It has been shown that pedagogical approaches that may be effective with young learners will not have the same effect with seniors. Nevertheless, the growing number of seniors who engage in this language learning process is an excellent stimulus for pedagogical research to develop new knowledge about the specific needs of these people, and to develop new and more effective approaches!