In continuation of our discussion on adult learners, let’s take a closer look into the tools and methodologies that go into training programs that work for adult learners.

Adults can be pretty picky learners. They are pretty good at evaluating whether a specific training or learning activity is worth their time. Naturally, there are a wide range of considerations that go into this decision. One place to strart to understand how adult learners determine whether or not a training experience is successful is to look at the research.

In my last post, I reviewed principles of andragogy, popularized by Malcolm Knowles, who asserted that adults learn best when the following five conditions are addressed:

  1. They understand why something is important to know or do.
  2. They have autonomy in choosing what they learn.
  3. The process is positive and encouraging.
  4. Adult learning is highly experiential.
  5. They have control over the pacing of learning.

I reviewed the first three points in my last post. In this post, I’d like to discuss how Knowles’ last two principles can be integrated into training strategy that brings about measurable results.

Importance of Past Experience

Adults have more life experience from which they interpret and make sense of new learning. We often view children as being “empty vessels” who are easier to teach because they have no past experiences to color what teachers teach. Adults have many “vessels” of varying patterns and colors, chock full of previously gained knowledge.

Part of the challenge of teaching adults is helping them understand which vessel to put what you teach them. Putting on-the-job training in the context of past experience may not be realistic since each person’s experiences vary widely, but you can put OJT in the context of their daily life.

For example, if you’re training a group of employees, you probably see them as learners. But your audience doesn’t see themselves that way. They view themselves as parents, spouses, neighbors, community leaders, employees. How does what you teach solve problems they face in the variety of roles they play each day?

Self Direction

Adults want to decide for themselves what they want to learn. They have less time to learn due to their many aforementioned responsibilities. The time they do spend in on-the-job training must be viewed as a worthwhile investment in order for them to engage and retain what they learn.

Daily demands and pressures limit an adult’s attention span. Breaking down concepts into smaller pieces allows adult learners to control the pace of learning, providing the feeling of autonomy they seek in a training environment.

For example, in CompanyIQ, courses can last as long as a few minutes, which works well for factory workers that have short breaks throughout the day and often use their mobile device during that time. Micro-courses allow adult learners to quickly explore a new topic, review previously-learned material, or take a quiz to test retained knowledge. Micro-courses promote participation and retained knowledge by giving learners control of the pace of their instruction and providing opportunities to review information multiple times in small amounts of time.

Adult learning strategies aren’t complicated, but they are different from how we typically approach on-the-job training and instruction. If you’re interested in learning more about teaching and training adult learners, I’d recommend checking out this brief guide.

Posted by Jeff Martin

Jeff Martin is a prolific curriculum and instructional designer with passion and ingenuity for developing disruptive learning solutions.

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