Adult Learner+Librarian Collaboration Can Lead to Student Success

Adult learners have different expectations and learning styles than learners in primary or secondary education. In higher education, students learn not only in the physical or online classroom but also in the library. One approach to meet an adult student’s learning style is through andragogical teaching, or the process of engaging adult learners.

Many students have probably approached a reference desk and received an answer or been pointed in a direction. However, “providing answers outright defeats learning by leaving patrons continually dependent on librarians’ help” (Desai & Graves, 2008,  p. 244). In order to support the adult learner, academic librarians can use andragogy.

So what does this mean in the real world and how can this lead to student success toward the goal of graduation? Adult learners are more eager to receive instruction and learn new skills (Cooke, 2010, p. 217). Whether one drops by the library or makes an appointment with the librarian, individual attention, support and instruction occur during the “transaction.”

After determining the student’s needs, the librarian works collaboratively with the student. It has been argued that “point-of-need assistance is more effective” and collaborative instruction can “empower the learner to ‘construct’ their own learning” (Desai & Graves, 2008, p. 244). The process can involve learning the research steps, determining electronic or print resources, developing keywords, brainstorming a topic, ethical use of information, etc. The instruction is focused on the needs of the student.

“The library is a venue for an active role in learning and the librarian is more of an information ‘coach’ or guide” (Cooke, 2010, p. 208). This allows for instruction through the above scenarios, as well as an opportunity for relationship building, empowerment, developing confidence, and to reinforce real-world skills that employers value.

During the interaction between the student and librarian, the student takes the “hot seat” role of hands-on practice as this helps with retention of what he or she has learned. 

“Doing is the way adults learn anything: concepts, skills or attitudes” (Cooke, 2010, p. 222).  The librarian will walk the student through a process, as well as prompt for responses, problem solving or critical thinking. For example, the librarian might say, “If I’m looking for information on XYZ topic, what keywords might I use?” Students are engaged in the learning and by “doing” are more likely to remember and be able to recreate the particular action on their own the next time. 

“When a learner owns a concept or piece of information, it becomes a permanent part of their knowledge base, it becomes reusable, and the learner is able to apply that knowledge for future situations or informational needs (one of the goals of information literacy)” (Cooke, 2010, p. 221).

In addition, “library services created specifically with adult learners and andragogy in mind are more effective and interesting” (Cooke, 2010, p. 220). So, take the opportunity to meet with your librarian, learn, collaborate and have fun.


Cooke, N. A. (2010). Becoming an andragogical librarian: Using library instruction as a tool to combat library anxiety and empower adult learners. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 16(2), 208-227. doi:10.1080/13614533.2010.507388.

Desai, C. M., & Graves, S. J. (2008). Cyberspace or face-to-face: The teachable moment and changing reference mediums. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(3), 242-254. Retrieved from

External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Hilary Wagner is a native Floridian. She is an alumnus of St. Petersburg Junior College and the University of South Florida, majoring in American Studies. She then obtained her Master's in Library and Information Science from USF, where she. She has worked in academic and public libraries, and accepted the position of Reference Librarian at Rasmussen's Pasco County, Florida College at Rasmussen in 2006. She serves on the Diversity and Learning & Teaching committees and is the liaison to the Business program, including Business Management degree specialization.

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