Educating Adult Students: A Comprehensive Model for

Beth Donnellan, M.Ed, ABD
Kaplan University
I. Who are adult students and how do they
learn? (emphasis on communication and learning
II. Path from Recovery to Learning to Helping
Others (emphasis on growth of students from
addict to student to professional)
III. Model for Training Addiction Professionals
(emphasis on matching individual growth with career
The student you are, is the
professional you will be!
Students are “visual, auditory, or kinesthetic”
Students complete assigned reading, think
about the material throughout the day, and
prioritize college learning.
Students have two hours a day to devote to
their studies.
Students are used to voicing their
opinions/ideas in class settings
Basic cognitive process is the same in all brains
The brain is designed to NOT THINK. Instead, we
automatize processes, actions, and thoughts.
Communication Styles
Assured: Adults who use direct, non-emotional
communication. They understand the importance of setting
(socially appropriate).
Emotional: Adults who use reactive or manipulative
communication (this is often a habit). May not understand
social appropriateness of settings (e.g. classroom vs home).
Lost Voice: Adults who have “learned” to be silent. They do
not believe that their voice matters or
are afraid to speak.
Assured Example:
Hi Prof,
I am writing because I just realized that I
did not complete my assignment due this
week. There are no excuses, I just forgot to
finish it and submit it on time. I submitted the
assignment a moment ago and hope that you
will still grade it for me. I am enjoying class
very much and appreciate this learning
Emotional Example:
I just saw my grade for the last assignment. It is
NOT FAIR that you gave me a zero. I TOLD YOU that I
was going to turn it in late because of my family
situation. Please fix this. I turned it in last hour and
you need to grade it. This is the third time that I have
had to write to you about this. You told me that you
understood my situation. Whatever…
Lost Voice Example:
Dear Professor Donnellan,
My name is Jarnell and i am a student in your PS124
Introduction to Psychology class. i am sorry that I have not
written to you or participated in class for the last month. I know
that i am going to fail, at this point, i totally deserve it. Thanks
for being a good instructor, i hope to have you again when
things get better.
Consideration in training students for work in
the addictions field. Clients will often use
emotional and lost voice type communication.
Both can be manipulative. Learning to use
assured communication will teach students a
valuable clinical skill early in their
program. But….. HOW do we do this?
Model professionalism in communication
Send out samples of proper communication at the
beginning of the term. Then, remind students of it.
Learning is a process and so, is automatized.
Most adults have developed a “learning habit”
that is behavioral in nature. Past addictive
behaviors can affect their present learning
These habits are hard to see in self and
harder to change. It is not impossible to recondition learning schemas though.
at last
Tell self
will do on
doing the
Get busy in
Submit work
on time or
and review
Do some
work each
day and
more if time
The student you are, is the professional you will
Provide students with a motivational goal. Help
students define a professional end goal (first end
goal). Example: “I want to work as a case manager in
an addictions treatment agency in two years.” The
second end goal might be, “I want to earn my state full
certification in addictions treatment in three years.”
Help students create small goals to reach. “I will
complete my assignments on Thursdays of each
3. Support students for their completing work on-time.
We often focus on those who DO NOT complete work on
4. Remind students of the link between student behaviors
and professional behaviors.
5. Have them reflect on how their habits are changing (as
a class or individually). Supply tools to help: paper or note
Traits of Addiction Students: Despite individual
differences in communication style, many
students share very personal information in
class. Example- sample of student email
Hi Prof D,
I know that I wrote about this on the discussion board, but I
was not sure if you saw it. I am a recovering alcoholic and just
fell off the wagon last week. Honestly, I am so sorry about not
getting my work done. It was just, a lot all at once. I am better
and quickly stopped my drinking (called my sponsor). This is
not an excuse, just letting you know why my work is late.
Your student- Jessica
** The referenced post garnered many supportive comments
from her classmates.
Addictions Clients:
What are some characteristics of their
communication patterns? Think about the
reasons for the communication!
Adult College Students:
What are the reasons for their communications?
Show academic understanding
Ask for assistance
Share personal information
Addictions Professionals:
What are the reasons for their communications?
1. Professional helping (e.g. identify problems)
2. Ask for assistance
3. Share personal information
Consider this…
Recovery/Assisting Someone (Family and Friends)
Will be encouraged to focus communication on recovery
activities, asking for assistance, and sharing.
Addictions Student
Will be encouraged to focus on academic communication.
Asking assistance is next and in many classes, sharing is
Addictions Professional
Will be encouraged to focus on professional communication for
helping clients. There is much less focus on asking for
assistance or sharing personal information (e.g. often
College: Transitional role between recovery and
professional. This provides more “clean time”
and time to build professional skills. Many
former addicts were developmentally arrested
during their using years.
Teens who use into their adult years are often
behind in understanding appropriate
communication and social skills.
Have students discuss scenarios related to
“professional communication”. So, if teaching
ethics/confidentiality, use examples of types of challenges
that professionals AND college interns might face. Include
college interns and volunteers in your examples.
If students communicate inappropriately, send
examples (via email) of other choices that the
student might make. Help them to clarify the intent
of their messages.
“Know-it-all Students” need help in breaking down
their fear of learning. Many might be in the field
and want to rely on their experiences.
“Off-Topic Students” need help in focusing. If the
student disregards lessons, he/she may not have a
copy of the text or might not understand at all.
Reach out directly.
“Vanishing Students” need help staying committed
or need understanding. Sometimes, the student is
uncomfortable with the subject matter.
“Addiction Is A Choice” these students can
continue to stick to a viewpoint that keeps
them from learning. To reduce arguments and
increase teaching, help the student focus on
learning the theories of addiction. This gives
the student a “way out”.
**Similar to providing counseling, WITHOUT doing so, students
need guidance for learning new skills.
Many facilities are usually willing to take on a
student volunteer/intern if the student agrees to
not be paid.
Helps students face realities: drug testing for
volunteers, criminal background (once students get
over the fear of facing this, it is easier to help them
look for jobs), and understanding local job market.
Eagerness for learning is transformed when these
barriers are reduced.
Most students assume that either they will
immediately be employed or will have a very hard
time getting a job.
The majority of our students report that they will
“think about this later”.
Assign a career counselor to build partnerships
with addictions agencies who are “college student
Provide students with lists/job descriptions of all of
the jobs in the field. There are A LOT!!
Consider students as having treatment
experience or “vicarious experience”
(through friends and family).
-their experiences can taint their desire to
learn other models or approaches
- create parameters for sharing in formal
academic venues
- understand that some students might be
triggered by the information in class (old
behaviors– manipulation, self-blame, shame)
- use class policies as solid guidelines (late work)
2. Understand that some students in recovery have
not had many positive formal learning experiences.
-teach them how to study and provide templates for
papers (scaffold their learning)
-create formal opportunities in class for structured
sharing that is closely monitored (discussion board
thread or live class discussion)
-remember that students might hold strong opinions
about treatments/drugs because of raw personal
experiences. Do not ignore these strong opinions and do
not argue with them- use this as a teaching situation (“let’s
find evidence from the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors
journal to support both sides).
Encourage meetings with career development professionals in
first term, give them to find local agencies, and have
them meet with other students who have jobs.
Create student organizations for those interested in studying
addictions science (e.g. Kaplan University).
Create a relationships with local agencies who are willing to
take unpaid volunteers.
Agencies who allow students to intern can train them and
learn to trust them. Many of our students who follow this
model gain employment following graduation.
Create scenarios in class to help students
apply the theories.
Provide opportunities for students to debate
drug policy issues outside of the classroom
(e.g. KU Addictions Division debated the
legalization of marijuana)
Encourage students from other departments
to take addiction science classes.
Maintain a database of job descriptions in the
addictions/dual diagnosis fields.
Create a Capstone project that helps students
to use the information learned in a practical
Hold seminars about how to find jobs when
the student has criminal convictions.
Train faculty to maintain the same policies so
that students cannot manipulate.
Provide opportunities for students to build
sense of self and practice developing direct
communication skills.
Please contact:
Beth Donnellan, Kaplan University
[email protected]
(813) 933-5382
See more details in:
Donnellan, E.G. (2014) If you build it, they will
come: Create virtual student organizations. In
C. Stevenson & J. Bauer, Building online
communities in higher education institutions:
Creating collaborative experience. New York:
IGI Global.

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