Using Adult Learning Principles to Teach the Word of God
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40
If you do a search on adult learning principles, you will find many different versions. We are going to look at 7 common principles of how adults learn. These principles help teachers know how to most effectively help people learn, whether it be in school, life, or the Word of God. Man has created these principles through much research. However, we can trace them all back to how Jesus taught.
Principle 1 – We learn based on needs that we have.
If we do not realize that we have a need for something we are not going to be interested in it. Jesus taught to transform people’s lives, not to impart information. If we can help people understand that the application of the Word of God will transform their life and set them free from the lusts and addictions of this world (John 8:36), they will see a need for the teaching of God’s Word.
Principle 2 – We learn in a non-threatening environment.
When people are intimidated or fearful, they usually shut down and learning stops. God is love (1 John 4:8b) and love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4). When He had a large crowd, He would give non-threatening sermons. However, Jesus adapted his teaching depending upon his audience. When in a smaller group with His disciples or the church, Jesus was more firm and adamant at times. If you are holding someone accountable, loving force may be necessary.
Principle 3 – We learn from other adults.
When a Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” (Matthew 8:7) The Centurion said you do not need to come to my house, speak a word and he will be healed. Then in Matthew 8:10, When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” Jesus told the crowd about the man’s great faith. We can be inspired and motivated by other people’s testimonies.
Principle 4 – We learn from real life examples.
Jesus provided great illustrations and metaphors in the parables He spoke. Mark 4:33-34 says, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.” These parables may not have been real examples. However, they dealt with real life scenarios that the people could relate to and learn from.
Principle 5 – We prefer a variety of presentation aids and techniques.
Jesus often used objects in His lessons to communicate to His audience. He washed the feet of the disciples to teach being a servant. John 13:14-15 says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” He called a little child to him to discuss childlike faith (Matthew 18:1–4). Jesus cursed a fig tree (Mark 11:14). Then He used it to show the disciples the power they have in their words. (Mark 11:20-24).
Principle 6 – We want feedback on our progress.
Jesus mentioned the progress of His disciple’s faith many times; in Matthew 16:8b “…O you of little faith…”, in Mark 9:19 when His disciples could not heal a boy, in John 20:29 Jesus told Thomas he needed to believe without seeing. Jesus also gave positive feedback to the Centurion for great faith (Matthew 8:7) and the thief being crucified beside Jesus, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Principle 7 – We learn when we actively participate.
Jesus encouraged participation by asking questions. He got the people talking. He got them to participate in many of the teachings and miracles that He performed. If we are actively involved in the learning process we will retain more of what was taught.
There are many methods to use when teaching. We need to be led by the Holy Spirit to the most effective teaching method in each scenario.