How To Effectively Train Adult Learners
I am creating a set of workshops for my department to learn some of the theories that will make them more effective when creating learning in a business environment. We have several classroom teachers who are moving to an Instructional Designer/trainer role. I have summarized the content and discussion in this article.
Andragogy Vs. Pedagogy
Pedagogy is defined as teaching children, and the direction of learning flows from expert to learner. This is usually a one-direction delivery of knowledge and does not necessarily have to have a reason or connection to daily life. Teachers are in control of all content and are expected to be the expert in their subjects. The goal of children’s schooling is to put knowledge in their heads.
Andragogy is defined as the teaching of adults and, although it shares some characteristics with pedagogy, there are many differences that an Instructional Designer (ID)/trainer needs to be aware of and concern themselves with. Andragogy has learning moving in all directions, from everyone participating in the learning. Harnessing all that knowledge leads everyone to be more successful in acquiring knowledge and skills.
The goal of corporate learning is to change the knowledge and skills of people doing a job. The learning is purposeful and necessary for learners. Trainers and IDs are not the be-all-and-end-all in terms of knowledge, and this is a struggle for IDs who come from a teaching background. They are used to knowing it all and suddenly have learners who know more than they do and have significantly more experience using the tool, technology, or process.
Adult Learning Theory
In order to be effective in training adults, IDs need to familiarize themselves with adult learning theory and how and why it is different from teaching children. There are several theories involved in teaching adults and the way information is taken in is very different from teaching children. In a training setting, IDs and trainers must learn the skill of sharing and soliciting information from everyone in the room and leveraging it to share knowledge with those who need it. This is a big shift and often is a hard one to overcome. Leaning on and leveraging the knowledge of your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is a critical skill for your success.
Adult learners want just-in-time learning that will help them do better at the skills and knowledge necessary to do their job more effectively and efficiently. Twenty-first-century learners are used to finding self-directed learning—think YouTube videos to fix just about anything that you want, teaching you to fix the toilet, change a tire, and build a table. Adults do not want extraneous information; they want the straightest road to learning what they need to do their job better. If you must include extra stuff, make it optional to consume for adult learners.
Adult learners are happy to share their knowledge and if you set up your training right, leveraging this knowledge can give these experienced learners satisfaction, where they would otherwise find the training useless because they know more than you. The double-edged sword is that as a trainer you must know when too much is being shared and be able to dial it back. This is a skill that needs to be developed to become good at, so continue to practice it.
Adults are intrinsic learners; they need the knowledge for something specific and want to attain it. This is a dream for IDs who came from the classroom and have been barraged with “why do I need to know this?” questions. Caution is needed to give adult learners only what they need and not more than they need. You need to identify what the knowledge or skill is that an adult learner needs in order to do their job and create your learning for that and only that. For learning to truly stick for adult learners, it should be reinforced and not a one-time shot. Determine how you will reinforce the knowledge/skill that your learners need, using all the tools in your ID toolbox.
Facilitate Adult Learning
Several ideas can be proposed to improve the VILT experience. The most important one is to add time for learners to discuss real-world situations and problems that they had and have the group find solutions. To facilitate this without adding to the length of the class, we recommend creating a blended learning situation where pre-work is given prior to class, or some sections are recorded and made available on an ad hoc basis for when the material is really needed by the learners. Use breakout rooms to encourage discussion and facilitate learners in getting to know people from other companies. Create ranking polls prior to class where learners indicate their top three challenges and if time runs short, use the students’ priorities when deciding where to cut. Use real company problems as exercises in the classroom. Use data from your support tickets to create the most impactful exercises.