Teaching Adult Students
(About 6-minute read time)
The information collected for this article aims to help LTP Tax Instructors, other tax preparers, and tax office business owners interested in teaching tax classes to develop teaching strategies and improve student learning and retention.
- You should consider the class environment and its impact on student learning and information retention.
- Use your tax preparation experiences and knowledge as a teaching tool.
- No course can offer all the scenarios that you have seen in your tax business.
- Tax forms are essential working tools; use them.
- Don't get carried away that students only need to learn how to enter information into the software.
How to Teach Adult Learners
It would help if you considered factors influencing adult student learning to improve the class environment and teaching strategies. Incorporate the information into your lesson plans and carefully observe its impact on the class. Below, I present three factors that impact adult student learning, persistence, and retention.
- Age and academic level. In general, the student demographics in your class will include adults and nontraditional students. The ages and educational level of these people can vary considerably. Some students immigrate from their native country, and they are highly educated. Do not be concerned about this! They have knowledge and practice in accounting and bookkeeping, but they do not know U.S. tax law. You do! Be confident.
- Personal motivation. Personal motivation in your students varies depending on factors such as future professional plans, the reason for taking the class, their social intelligence, and their ability to develop or build relationships. Students with better social intelligence are more prompt to establish partnerships with others, are good at starting conversations, and are fast learners.
- Psychosocial factors. These factors include students’ living arrangements, their social and economic situation, and their home’s emotional stability.
All of these factors determine the student’s level of attention and information retention. You are not responsible for improving these factors, but you can contribute positively by creating an environment where students feel comfortable and can share their ideas openly. Avoid using words like no, ever, never, always, everybody, nobody, etc. These words stop students from asking questions, expressing ideas, or starting a conversation that could benefit the class. Of course, you must be careful that students do not take control of the class and generate conversations outside the topic. Which is called “rabbit trail”.
Adult Teaching Methods
In short, an adult student might not have children’s skills to absorb all the information, but they have experiences that help them relate to what they learn. These experiences help them conceptualize their knowledge by connecting them to their professional and personal experiences. Adult learners pay more attention and retain more information when they can relate to the topic.
Let's consider three teaching methods that adult learners can benefit from:
Cross-learning. This method is achieved by relating the information in your lecture with real-life situations that adult students can recognize. This connection to life situation increases their interest and motivation. Share your tax clients’ stories and connect them to the tax information you are presenting. Do not use clients’ personal information in the examples. Talk about how you dealt with that particular situation, what information you found, and what solutions you presented to your client to resolve the tax issue.
Emotional learning. This method allows you to use some emotional conditions to attract students' attention. Sometimes, clients go through a loss and still have to report that loss in their tax returns. Use some of these situations to review the tax credit requirements and everything involved in this process. Remember, do not use personal information in this example. Do not force students to share personal situations, particularly if they lose a loved one. You can ask them, for instance, if they have pets and if, based on the information they learned, they would be able to claim them as dependents. This can help you review the residency, support, relationship, and other requirements.
- Learning through argumentation. This method uses questions to generate student engagement. It is possible to develop a sequence of questions that lead students to visualize the tax landscape presented by the instructor. For example, you can start by asking what type of income you receive, if that is earned or unearned income, what form you receive at the end of the year, whether that income is reported on Form 1040, and on which line. Or you can quickly start by asking why there are two columns in form 1040, lines 2 – 6.
To establish the relationship between cross-learning, emotional learning, and learning through argumentation, we must consider what we identified before as multiple intelligence. Multiple intelligence defines three learning styles visual, oral, and kinesthetic.
But how do we do it?
Well, if after reading this article you started thinking that it is not going to be easy, that it will be impossible, that you can't do it, and other expressions that are not allowed in this publication, then you are on the right path to becoming an instructor. Nothing in this world worth doing is easy. So, get your tool, and start practicing. Practice makes perfect. Rome was not built in a day! The best way to start is by presenting the topic you want to teach, establishing a relationship with a real-life situation, and developing a series of questions to enhance student engagement. It is possible to present segments of the forms to indicate, for example, where the different forms of income are reported while showing a sample for each type of income in a conversation.
If you have an in-person class, it's easy to use the income forms, worksheets, schedules, and how all the information flows to Form 1040.
Imagine asking the following questions:
- Who knows someone who receives benefits from Seguro Social?
- How old is that person?
- What other type of income is he/she receiving?
- Do they file their tax return?
- Do you think this person can continue to work if they receive Social Security benefits?
Considering students’ demographics can help you improve your teaching strategies and student retention and will help you develop a better class environment.
Fernando Cabrera, National Education Coordinator of Latino Tax Pro