How to Engage Adult Learners: What to Do When Your Audience Falls Asleep

Keeping a classroom engaged and captivated seems like the holy grail of teaching, but it’s actually surprisingly easy to do. So why does it sometimes feel like it’s so difficult to hold the attention of a class? It seems as though students are just waiting to succumb to things like conversation, their cell phones, or the absolute worst—sleep. But, luckily for teachers, this isn’t the case.

Yes, students can sometimes have short attention spans, but the motivation to learn is there. Especially for adults that realize they are spending good money to learn new skills to help their career. The trick is to tap into this intrinsic motivation to learn.

The first thing to remember is that learners, especially adult learners, are more enthusiastic when multiple instructional methods are used1. This means that whatever you do, even if it’s working, you will always need to switch it up. So in practice, as opposed to having a day devoted to instructional videos, break it up to one video per day. A lesson made up of different components, is much more engaging and educational than a class that uses only one instructional method (no matter how much fun that approach could be!)

Here are 5 effective methods to keeping your classroom engaged:

  1. Create classroom dialogues that relate past experiences from both the students and instructors. Spend the time to create questions that you know will spark conversation or have your own stories ready to go if the conversation fizzles.
  2. Inspire real life scenarios with things like simulations, case studies, and role playing activities. Part of learning is getting into the right mindset—activities like these can often reinvigorate minds that are starting to stray.
  3. Invite guest speakers to relate interesting anecdotes and stories. Students often perk up when they hear a guest speaker is coming in. Don’t take this personally, it’s not that they prefer the speaker to you, an outside speaker is just different and change is exciting!
  4. Look to the future. Talk to your class about how the skills they are learning today will be used when they find themselves in industry. As a student, it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re there. Keep students motivated with the answer to the question, “why?”
  5. Provide opportunity for self-directed learning. Present a question to the class and have them figure the answer out on their own, by any means available. This is not only interesting for the class, but it practises a student’s ability to problem solve and learn things on their own: valuable skills for any future career.

Keep these tips in mind the next time your students are dozing, or beginning to chatter from the back row. It usually means it’s time to switch something up.

Also, keep in mind that captivating learning materials go a long way in holding the interest of a classroom. It may be time to look at whether the textbook or instructional presentation you’re using is putting your students to sleep. If this is the case, textbooks or workbooks from DDE Media Company might just be right for your classroom.



1McDaniel, D., & Brown, D. (2001). United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Manual for media trainers: A learner-centred approach. Retrieved from Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development website:

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