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I will be teaching a class in my university's evening degree program. The students are undergraduates but are what I've heard referred to as "non-traditional" students. Basically, the students are all older than the 18-22 year range common in undergraduate programs and most of them have full time jobs. I have taught older students before, but only in the context of masters programs targeted mostly at students with professional experience (e.g., a part-time executive MBA program).

I'm looking for advice, or links to resources with advice that you have found useful, on teaching older working students. In particular, I am interested in techniques, approaches, or things to keep in mind that are different from teaching (a) traditional undergraduate students (i.e., ~18-22 year-old) students and (b) working professional master students.

  • While the answer from Jeffrey below is great, you should also do some searching. There is A LOT written on this topic. – earthling Sep 28 '14 at 1:47
  • Great Great Great question. I am one of those student (finishing BA at 27, been working full time since second year) and the biggest "shift" I found in my attitude is that I ended up loving things that included a bit of "problem solving", not just the mere remember-rule-and-apply much loved by kids right out of HS... – Caterpillaraoz Sep 26 '17 at 13:30
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In my experience, you will find four things happen to various degrees. One is, non-traditional students are less distracted by issues that we know overwhelm the minds of 18-22 year olds. This means, they can bring more focus to their studies. The second thing is, non-traditional students are less inclined to believe they are entitled to something easy from you with no responsibility from them. This means, they can bring a stronger sense of mutual respect to the class room. The third thing is, non-traditional students have some lag or lack of knowledge in pre-requisite information for the course. This means, you may have to spend time to help them remember the missing background information. Finally, non-traditional students are more involved in higher-level and higher-intensity demands in their lives. This means, they can have less time to study during your course as though that responsibility is supposed to be ingrained in their full-time career path for the coming semester.

You might plan in general how to balance these changes during your course presentation and curriculum development. Then, consider how, because you know these changes are coming, you will make specific changes in such things as the pace of your lecture presentations, the number of or time scales of your assignments, and the options you will offer for off-line tutoring.

Overall, teaching non-traditional students is a different experience that can end up being a far more rewarding one than teaching traditional students.

Best regards, and have fun!

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    I'd just add to, perhaps, plan on them having forgotten some crucial background info and do a week or two (whatever you can spare with clever re-jiggering of the syllabus) of review at the beginning. This way you can hit the ground running, instead of having to retroactively bring students "up to speed" on a case-by-case basis. This all assumes there is some needed background, of course. – Dennis Sep 28 '14 at 3:10
  • One of the classes I took had a 3 day gratis period for assignments. It meant that I could be total of three days late in the semester whenever I needed it, no questions asked, no penalties. The added flexibility was very much appreciated, because you know that your kid will get sick the week when the homework is due and you are working on a deadline at work. You just don't know which homework. – Orion Sep 28 '14 at 6:24
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    @Dennis: Yes, very sound advice. Such a "review" should also be used as a way for students to find out whether they really do belong in the course. A reasonable way can be to give final exams from the pre-requisite courses as homework or quizzes or exams in their own right. – Jeffrey Weimer Sep 28 '14 at 19:14

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