Students or Learners? What to Call the Adults in Your LIteracy Programs 
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on November 21, 2022 in categoryNews

A banner that says: Students or Learners? What to Call the Adults in Your Programs.

ProLiteracy strives to be a voice that represents those we serve. To do so, we are constantly evaluating everything we do, from our courses and professional development to the language we use. 

In recent years, we’ve noticed various programs raising the question of whether to use the term students or learners to describe the adults they serve. A recent survey by ProLiteracy member program Literacy Network showed that 53% of enrolled adults prefer the term student

At ProLiteracy, a small group started talking about the topic, which led to us evaluating our word choice in marketing communications, New Readers Press products, donor appeals, research, and more. 

ProLiteracy Senior Director of Professional Development Todd Evans said this is a question that has been raised for years. While at the Memphis Literacy Council in the ’80s, he had this same conversation, and the consensus, even then, was that adults wanted to be called students.  

“Their basic take was, ‘We’re going to school. Everyone else who goes to school is called a student, from kids in elementary school to people in college. We’re students too,’” Evans remembers. “Their attitudes toward the term adult learner were that it singled them out, and no one knew what it meant if you told them you were an adult learner.” 

Our small conversation led to a larger conversation among ProLiteracy staff. We questioned whether there was a case to use one term exclusively over the other, or whether, in certain instances, one term was preferred. There are various opinions, but we want to know what you think.  

Please share your perspective by answering our short survey. Your response will help guide our conversation. Tip: Before you begin the survey, it would be helpful to ask your students about their preference. 

We appreciate you taking the time to share your and your students’ thoughts.  

Take the Survey



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