Adults Learners versus Child Learners: The Challenge of Teaching Real Estate

By: Dearborn Real Estate Education

Formal education plays a huge role in our lives. As children, we’re guided through lessons on our path to adulthood designed to ensure we have the knowledge and skills we need to enter the “real world.” For people who choose to pursue a real estate career, education continues to play a central part in their professional lives. From prelicensing to postlicensing to continuing education, earning and keeping a license depends on the completion of required education.

As someone tasked with leading a classroom full of current or prospective real estate professionals, there are some unique challenges that come with the job. Your students are not the same people they were as children in a classroom, and they’re also not the same type of learners. To better understand the challenges of teaching adults, we talked with experienced real estate instructor Carmel Streater, PhD. Carmel provided us with 6 key differences between child learners and adult learners, as well as insight on why each can pose challenges for real estate instructors.

1. School is a child’s job. For adults, classes are secondary to their real life.

Simply put, education is a bigger part of a child learner’s life than an adult learner’s life. As a result, it can be more difficult to reach adult learners because they’re typically more distracted. Children’s education, social life, and sense of accomplishment all revolve around school. That’s where they spend a considerable amount of their waking hours. Adults have work and family priorities. When taking a real estate course, especially continuing education, they are unlikely to view their classroom time with the same weight that a child does because it plays a smaller part in their life.

2. Children are forced to learn what someone chooses to teach them. Adults may be required to attend class, but they can’t be forced to learn.

School is progressive for children. They understand that as they grow, they need to learn what they’re being taught today, because it’s a building block for what they will learn tomorrow. Children also seem to have a natural desire to improve. These factors combine to make them predisposed to learning what they’re taught.

For adult learners, it’s different. Prelicensing students need to complete a course and pass a test in order to earn their license. But at any given time along the way, they can choose to tune out or walk out. Continuing education students present an even more complex challenge. The state can mandate that adults attend class, but they can’t mandate that the adults actually learn anything in the class. So temptations like daydreaming and smartphone browsing are a bigger threat.

3. If kids don’t pay attention, they will be punished by parents or teachers. Adult learners are only punished by their own failure.

Faced with zero repercussions for not learning the material being presented, adult learners feel less invested in their education. Instead of attending class with a goal of learning, they may be more focused on receiving a certificate. Adult learners are also less likely to take responsibility for their failure to learn. When an adult learner doesn’t emerge from the class armed with the knowledge that was supposed to be transferred, they often blame it on the instructor.

4. Child learners are supervised inside and outside the classroom. Real estate professionals are unsupervised at home and rarely supervised at work.

As real estate professionals, our students enjoy a great deal of freedom in their day-to-day lives. They are accountable to themselves, and ultimately responsible for setting their own guideposts and guardrails on the path to success. Many real estate professionals thrive in their careers because of this self-accountability. But that fierce independence also makes teaching adults more challenging because they aren’t used to following someone else’s direction. Children feel accountable to their teachers and view them as an authority figure. Adults are more likely to view instructors as peers.

5. Children feel a responsibility to learn. Adults may feel responsible for attending class, but they won’t learn anything they don’t think is relevant. The state can make them go, but they can’t make them learn.

Effectively educating adults comes down to two things: relevance and facilitation. You need to ensure that the content is relevant and that the students know it how it relates to what they do on a daily basis. But it’s also the instructor’s responsibility to present the material in a way that students will clearly understand. If a child is learning about trucks, we show them photos of trucks, we let them play with toy trucks, and we might even take them out to see, touch, and sit in an actual truck. Carmel explains how those tactile principles of education can work for adults:

“One of the best classes I have ever attended was led by someone who worked in property restoration. He taught a course at his company’s warehouse on the effects of flood damage. He partitioned off a section of the building and built a short wall, complete with frame and drywall. The night before the course, he filled the partitioned area with three feet of water. The next day, when we arrived for the course, he drained the water. As the water began to drain out, he was able to clearly demonstrate the effects that even clean water can have on a property in just 12 hours. The lessons I learned in that class made me a better real estate professional and will stick with me for the rest of my life.”

6. Child educators are well trained in the art of education. Adult educators are often subject matter experts, very skilled in their areas of expertise, but lacking the skills required to effectively teach what they know so well in the classroom.

As we’ve discussed, teaching adults comes with a whole list of challenges when compared with teaching children. All of those challenges are compounded by the fact that childhood educators are typically better prepared to teach. Child educators receive a degree in teaching. They understand their audience and how to best reach them. Oftentimes, adult educators are subject matter experts with varying degrees of teaching ability. So we know the material inside and out, but we oftentimes aren’t armed with the skills to effectively transfer our knowledge to another person, or especially a large group of people.

Carmel Streater has been licensed to sell real estate for almost 40 years and has been a real estate instructor since 1987. She earned the Real Estate Educators’ Association’s Distinguished Real Estate Instructor (DREI) designation, as well as a PhD in adult education. Carmel has authored a series of online courses to help instructors better prepare for the challenges outlined in this article and, ultimately, be more effective adult educators. The courses can be accessed at

Free Download: 2018-2019 State of the Real Estate Education Industry Report

We talked to over 300 real estate educators across the country to learn more about what and how you are teaching, where you see the industry going, how you’re spending your marketing budget, and what challenges you’re facing. We compiled the results in this free report.

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