Video: Becoming a Successful Adult Learner

This video explores ways to shape successful learning experiences for adults with FASD and learning disabilities.

About this video

Production Date: February 23, 2011
Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes

  • Lindsay McKerness, Advancing Futures Bursary Program, Alberta Human Services
  • Emily Gidden, Educational Counselor, Bow Valley College
  • Denise Theunissen, Learning Specialist, Bow Valley College

Download slide notes for this video (PDF, 8 pages)


This video will help you to understand:

  • the student experience of a young adult affected by FASD
  • ways of engaging adults affected by FASD in a school experience
  • ways to shape successful learning for adults with learning disabilities


  1. Advancing Futures bursary (6:36)
  2. FASD and education (8:42)
  3. Student stories (13:32)
  4. How to prepare for college or other post-secondary education (3:23)
  5. Services available at Bow Valley College (5:56)
  6. Strategies for being an effective adult learner (27:27)
  7. Questions (10:23)

Advancing Futures bursary

‘Advancing Futures’ is a bursary program for youths transitioning out of care with Alberta Human Services. It is essential to give students with learning disabilities the support they need to be successful in post-secondary education.

  • Bow Valley College (BVC) has a program specifically designed to meet needs of those with special learning needs
    • an inner city college with many English as a second language students
    • large academic upgrading program for grades 3-12
    • offers several career programs (diploma and certificate) in a many areas
    • several low-literacy programs, including some integrated
    • continuing education

FASD and education

  • up to 60% of individuals with FASD have a disrupted high school experience, for example:
    • suspension
    • expulsion
    • voluntary withdrawal
  • often have poor academic performance, poor behavioural progress, school adjustment problems and poor attendance
  • with the right support and environment, adult students with FASD can be successful in post-secondary environment

Factors for students to be successful in their programs:

  • parental or other adult advocacy in high school and after
  • supportive staff and teachers who understand FASD
  • feeling academically integrated within the school
  • academic accommodations and strategies, such as modified course loads
  • holistic approach to education that is not just about academics, look at wrap around services

Plan for success:

  • BVC entrance test ensures correct placement in classes; identifies primary and secondary disabilities along with strengths and needs
  • career planning to suit ability and interests
  • ensures collaboration amongst counseling, specialized support, advisors and tutors
  • encourages students to keep with one counselor to promote consistency
  • address secondary disabilities:
    • up to 92% of adults with FASD have a mental health issue such as depression and/or anxiety
    • also may have problems with housing and alcohol/drug use

Student stories

Khrystyne Molier:

  • 21 years old when started at BVC
  • diagnosed with FASD 2 years ago
  • poor academic history
  • realized that she needed to go about things differently to get there
  • strategies:
    • extra test taking time
    • tutoring counselor for support when needed
  • Khrystyne is now working towards being a graphic designer

Natasha Gordon:

  • 23 years old, in foster care since 5 years old
  • multiple school placements with little support through growing up
  • placed in special needs in junior high; felt isolated and was picked on
  • was very unhappy and had lots of school suspensions
  • difficulties continued in high school
  • she did enjoy childcare classes
  • decided to go back to school to learn more about childcare
  • started at BVC in early learning and childcare development, but decided to change to small business management, where she was very successful
  • met advisor almost daily, spent time helping other students

How to prepare for college or other post-secondary education

Important to ask yourself questions prior to attending college:

  • have I thought about career options?
  • do I know what supports I need and where to go for supports?
  • do I know what services are available at the college?
  • do I have the appropriate documentation of a disability?
  • am I familiar with assistive technology?

Services Available at Bow Valley College

Counseling team and student advisors work together to support students right from the start.


  • set student up for success
  • often a reduced course load, isolation and extended time for exams
  • study strategies workshops on an ongoing basis
    • reading
    • memory
    • time management
    • stress management
  • use of assistive technology in the classroom or homework
  • request for education supports in the classroom such as sign language, interpreters, note takers
  • request special seating and preferential seating location

Strategies for being an effective adult learner

There are a number of strategies for being an effective adult learner especially recommended for adults with FASD, including (but not limited to):

1.  Memory

  • lots of repetition in a variety of ways
  • structure, consistency, shorten time of task (break into manageable chunks)
  • lots of variety but not too much information at once

2.  Executive Functioning (EF)

  • consider environmental strategies such as signage
  • direct training is required
  • explain explicitly what the student needs to know
  • use problem solving approach
  • break down task into smaller parts so tasks are more manageable
  • check off accomplishments so progress is visible
  • identify task and explain what needs to be done
  • reinforce systematic and effective problem-solving:
    • what do you need
    • how do you get it done
    • act on it
  • establish and maintain routines, include reminders, make sure routine fits student’s natural rhythms

3.  Organization

  • support use of agendas:
    • hard copy or electronic
  • provide a table of contents:
    • need to show how everything fits together
  • use a checklist to check off what is done
    • keeps tasks manageable
  • model categorizing:
    • putting things into categories
    • keep tasks short and attainable
  • use structure and sequencing techniques:
    • teach what order to do things in
  • spatial explanation:
    • help to focus on tasks at hand
    • lots of space on paper
  • assist with binder organization:
    • helps keep mind organized

4.  Concentration

  • provide frequent breaks
  • break task into small units
  • redirect learner to task at hand
  • make meaningful connections and allow time for making connections and relating to everyday life
  • use gestures and your body
  • be clear and precise in instructions
  • establish rules and provide positive feedback
  • no perfume or bright sunlight


Modified: 2015-09-09
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