How the Adult Brain Learns: The Importance of Creating Enriched Environments When Teaching

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As adult learners now make up the majority of U.S. students, it is more important than ever for educators who administer and teach in post-traditional programs to understand how the adult brain learns. This article examines the science of how the adult brain learns and offers suggestions for faculty in post-traditional programs to capitalize on this knowledge and maximize the effectiveness of their teaching. Both theoretical underpinnings and practical tips for brain-based teaching are offered

When I speak on this topic, as I frequently do, I almost always begin by asking my audience members, “How many of you in here genuinely care that your students learn?” I typically get a gentle wave of laughter and a sea of raised hands in response. Of course, we care that our students learn; that’s why we do what we do! But how do we know learning is actually taking place? Many instructors simply do what they have done for years, or they do what feels right, or they choose an activity that they read about or saw somewhere. But if we genuinely care that our students learn, then it behooves us to make informed choices about our instructional strategies so we can rest assured learning is taking place.

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About the Author

Allison Friederichs, Ph.D., is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and assistant teaching professor at University College of the University of Denver. Allison engages in research and public speaking in academic and corporate sectors in the area of how the adult brain learns, and the implications of that knowledge on teaching, training, and curriculum development. She serves on UPCEA’s Federal Policy Committee.


Friederichs, A., (2018). How the adult brain learns: The importance of creating enriched environments when teaching. UNBOUND: Reinventing Higher Education (Spring 2018). Retrieved from

Daniel Hocutt

Web Manager and Adjunct Professor of English for the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies.