Adult Audience

What are the Public Speaking Needs of the Adult Learners and Listeners

Adult learners who make up adult audiences have six needs related to learning according to Knowles (1990) These needs are summed up in the question, What is in it for me?

The need to know

Adult learners tend to contextualize their learning to relate to their lives and experiences. They need to know why they are learning and the consequences of not learning. This is an essential part of reaching an audience of adults.

Self Concept

The self concept and self responsibility in adult learners create in them the drives for continued education. Once in academia, the adult tends to become a dependent learner.

The exception is the paradigm shift toward independent learning as seen in external degree programs. The economy of time, resources and the reduction of listening to bad lectures has created an entirely new learning group. Independent learning has the potential to be accelerated over traditional academia.

My Personal Experience

On completion of LPN education, it took less than 6 months of my time to complete the RN program through Regents College (now Excelsior College). This was accomplished with CLEP credits, challenging some credits, and taking some Community College Classes at the same time I was testing out of my RN program. If you would like more info, I would be glad to help. Please reach me through the contact pages of

The independent learner is highly motivated and tends to be a continued learner throughout life.

Many who avoid this type of learning will say they need to have a structured class to learn. They also say they are not motivated to study unless they have to.

There is a prejudice against self directed or independent education. There are two possible reasons. One is the assumption of lost revenues. The fallacy of this thinking, in my case, was that I was directed through the system with Masters and PhD educators.

The second prejudice against self directed education was expressed by a doctor at one of the hospitals I worked at. He felt the independent education could not screen out unqualified people.

Although this is anecdotal evidence against self directed learning, more than one of the nursing supervisors who I polled prior to signing up for my college said that they found those nurses who went through my college were actually better nurses on the average. All had known or worked with a few graduates.

Self Directed Independent Student

The independent and self directed student will have life long continuous self study habits that the dependent student will tend to neglect. It would seem the independent learner has the best potential for continued growth and development beyond the dependent adult learner.

These individuals fill a continuum from the two extremes of independent to dependent. Sometimes they can be identified in an adult audience by their choice of seating in the audience. Of the makeup of your adult audience, those closest to the front may tend to be more independent and self directed in their learning style.

Learners Experience

Adults have experience that becomes a learning resource.

Readiness to Learn

Readiness to learn is related to need to learn. In adults it is voluntary. It can be also noted by the chosen seating location of the members of the audience. Often, the more interested will sit closer to the front. Those who want to make a quick escape and have less readiness will tend to take up the back.

Orientation toward Learning

In adults the orientation is toward real life situations. Motivation is related to the worth or value of learning because of what's in it for them in terms of benefit.


Most adult learners are intrinsically motivated toward learning and some are extrinsically motivated. Desire for learning is related to success and learning is viewed as a life long process among those who continue their education. Motivation is also based on socio-economic backgrounds of the adult learners.

On the other end of the spectrum are the adults with no desire to learn and they just live for today because tomorrow they will die. I am not aware of any high level studies that stratify our society and looks at percentages of those who continue to learn compared to those who do not.

Another challenge is that not all learning is in academia. Skills and crafts that are equally a part of our society are usually handed down. Sometimes they are learned by interest and dedication of the adult learner.

Bottom line, answer the question of your audience of what is in it for me and your public speaking will meet the primary needs of the majority of your adult audience.

Next: The Key to Meeting the Six Needs This key will help you with the choice of what you say and to better reach the audience.

Mature Audience Requirements need to be added to your presentation if it is going to be effective. Do you know the three basic considerations when speaking to a mature audience?

The Audience Home Page Everything audience is covered here. The Adult Audience Public Speaking Website

Lets Connect View Jonathan Steele RN Holistic Nurse's profile on LinkedIn
Lets Connect View Jonathan Steele RN Holistic Nurse's profile on LinkedIn
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