Magazine article Talent Development

Back to Basics: Successfully Teaching Adults Boils Down to These Six Principles

Magazine article Talent Development

Back to Basics: Successfully Teaching Adults Boils Down to These Six Principles

Article excerpt

I can remember the feeling I had, sitting at my desk, trying to design my first training course for adults in the corporate environment. How will I teach them? How much material should I cover? Where do I start? These were some of the thoughts that went through my head as I sat with a blank piece of paper in front of a computer screen. And then it occurred to me: Google.

In the search bar, I typed the simple question: "How do adults learn best?" My search yielded several resources in adult education, including books, degree programs, and websites created by and for talent development professionals. After spending a significant amount of time wading through the research, I noticed several themes emerging. I organized them into six principles and wrote them down to use as guidelines as I began developing my course.

Since then, I have returned to these principles again and again. They form my core strategy for keeping participants engaged and motivated to learn.

Get learner buy-in

Ask any experienced trainer what the most important piece of a training class is and she will tell you that it's getting buy-in from your learners. Adults typically are not thrilled to be put in a classroom, especially for mandatory training. They need to understand why they are there and how they will benefit from the course. If you don't provide a satisfactory explanation of this before the course has even begun, your learners will lose interest. And once this happens, you'll have a difficult time regaining it.

Begin every training session with a compelling value statement, and make your participants a promise to deliver on the session's key objectives.

Give learners more autonomy

Adults want to be in control of their own learning. They prefer certain learning methods over others, and want to be able to move at their own pace. If an instructor is simply standing in front of a room and spoon-feeding information to them, adults will feel as though they have no ownership in the process and will leave class feeling frustrated and unmotivated.

Take a poll at the beginning of the class to see what types of learners you have in your classroom. Have a few learning methods ready and allow individuals to use the method that works best for them. Although this requires more work on your end, building this flexibility into your course will pay dividends.

Use learners' experiences

Adults in the working world, even new professionals, have a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience built up before they even set foot in the classroom. They will use it to make sense of the new information. They are asking themselves, "What have I done in the past that is similar to this and how does this information help me do it better in the future?"

What your learners already know and can do is the most valuable resource in the classroom. Have participants share relevant past experiences with one another, and ask them to re-evaluate how they would have handled certain situations differently, given what they are learning in class.

Make it meaningful

Adults come into a classroom with problems they need solved. Whether it's a manager looking to resolve a difficult situation with an employee or a call center representative who wants to improve his product knowledge, the training content needs to be specifically tailored to address learners' problems.

At the beginning of class, ask all participants to describe a training-related challenge they are facing on the job. …

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