Did you know that adult learners have special needs?
When we were kids we went to school and we sat in class every day and our teachers all taught pretty much the same way. It didn’t matter if you were a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinesthetic learner. The teacher pretty much did what was most comfortable for him. Times have changed and teachers are now more aware of learning styles and other issues that affect children’s learning.
But the principles of adult education are still fairly new to most people. If you are a speaker and do any type of education or training with the groups you speak to, this applies to you.
First a little story. Malcolm Knowles is considered the “father of adult education” despite the fact that the topic had been discussed and researched for over a century.
Knowles assumed that adults:
1) transition from dependence to self-determination;
2) draw on their wealth of experience to learn;
3) willing to learn when taking on new roles; and
4) Solve problems and want to apply new knowledge immediately.
In his book The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, Knowles disagrees that adults are not capable of learning: “…the rapidly accelerating pace of change in our society has proved that this doctrine is no longer true learned in youth have become inadequate and in many cases actually untrue, and skills learned in youth have been superseded by new technologies.”
The term “andragogy” means self-directed learning for people of all ages, as opposed to the term “pedagogy” which defines teacher-directed learning. In practice, this means that in adult education or training, the process comes before the content.
Knowles may not have invented these terms or concepts, but he was the first to put them together into an organized theory. Additional theories of adult learning have also been developed since the time of Knowles. Here is an overview of adult learning principles that will greatly enhance your understanding of how and why adults learn. This allows you to more effectively tailor your presentations and training to the groups you serve.
1. Adults are autonomous and self-determined
Adults want to decide for themselves what, when, how and why they learn. Lecturers/teachers should allow adults to direct some of their own learning. Here are some ways to make this easier:
* Ask your participants what they already know about your topic and what they would like to learn. Find out what their goals are to be there.
* Share your agenda and ask for contributions. This may result in you changing the order of your workshop to better suit the needs of the group. You may spend more time than planned on certain topics and less time on others. Be flexible.
* Act as a facilitator, guiding the group and encouraging them to draw their own conclusions rather than forcing information into a lecture format. Allow them to be responsible for their own learning.
* Research the needs of the group and organization in advance so you can provide a combination of information that matches perceived needs and actual needs.
2. Adults have a lifetime of knowledge and experience that influences their learning
Adult learners can be a valuable resource for you as a trainer/speaker. It is also important for them to connect learning to these earlier life experiences. This is how you make the most of your audience’s experience and knowledge.
* Don’t assume that your participants are “blank slates” and don’t know anything about your topic. Nothing is more offensive than a speaker who jumps into a lecture without first understanding the audience’s needs and level of knowledge. Do your research and ask first to find out what they already know.
* If necessary, ask your listeners to share their experiences and create activities that encourage them to use their experiences, for example in small group discussions.
* Prepare activities that include choices so that the learning process can be better tailored to the individual levels of your participants.
3. Adults need relevance in learning
It’s important for adults to learn something relevant and applicable to real life, be it work-related or personal. Here’s how to make learning relevant to your audience.
* Identify learning goals and ask participants to share their goals.
* Discuss and ask to share real world applications of your theme.
* Avoid too theoretical workshops or presentations.
In the book Teacher, Sylvia Ashton-Warner discusses the importance of her work as a teacher with Maori children. She remembers trying to teach them to read from European textbooks with pictures and language that mean nothing to them. When she starts working with her own language, culture and experiences to teach them to read, they thrive. Relevance is one of the most important keys to learning for people of all ages.
4. Adults are motivated to learn by external and internal factors
When we were children, many of us were motivated to learn by nothing more than the rewards and punishments of our parents and teachers.
As adults, we have many reasons for learning:
* It is a requirement of a job
* We want to make new friends and connections
* for professional development and to advance our careers
* to drive away boredom
* because we are interested in a specific topic and want to learn for fun
* to create a better environment for our children and families
. . . and the list goes on.
As an instructor/presenter, it’s important to understand the many reasons why your attendees attend your seminar. For example, you cannot be there voluntarily. Ask them why they came and what they hope to get from the experience.
Because it’s important to understand what motivates your learners to learn, it’s also important to understand what might be barriers to their learning:
* Concerns about finances
* Time restrictions
* Child care issues
* Relationship problems (one partner feels threatened by the other’s advancement)
* Lack of confidence in learning ability (some people believed they didn’t do well in school and they carry that with them forever)
* Uncertainty about intelligence
* Concern for practicality and relevance
. . . and the list goes on!
Understanding your learners’ motivations and barriers can help you, the educator, to determine exactly how you can best serve them by increasing their motivation to learn.
5. Adult learners have sensitive egos
Throughout our lives, many of us have developed a fear of appearing stupid or incompetent. As children we were encouraged to explore, ask questions and learn about the world, but eventually that was taken away from us. Many adults have mixed feelings about teachers, school and structured learning.
Some people go to great lengths to hide, for example, their inability to read or their lack of understanding of the duties of their work.
A trainer/speaker needs to be aware of these issues and build trust by treating learners with respect, sensitivity and non-judgment.
* Allow participants to build confidence by practicing what they have learned in small groups before facing the large group
* Use positive reinforcement to encourage participants
* If sensitive issues are to be discussed, create a safe space by enforcing confidentiality and allowing participants to “let it through” if there is something they do not like to talk about
* Offer low-risk activities before moving on to higher-risk or higher-reliance activities
* Recognize participants’ previous life experiences and knowledge and allow them to express their opinions and participate in class leadership
A speaker who thinks they know more than anyone else in the room invites trouble and creates an environment that discourages learning.
6. Adults are practical and problem-oriented and want to apply what they have learned
Perhaps the most important outcome for adult learners is that they can immediately apply what they have learned to their work or personal life. Help make this easier by doing the following:
* Use examples to help them see the connection between classroom theories and practical application
* Use problem-solving activities as part of learning
* Create action items or to-do lists with participants
* Help learners transfer what they have learned into daily practice by providing follow-up coaching or mentoring
* Create an experiential learning environment that follows you experiential learning cycle
This was just a brief overview of the principles of adult education. I hope you have found some of the tips in these articles helpful.
At the most basic level, adult learning is usually self-directed and based on the individual needs and life experiences of the person. Follow these tips when working with adults, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a truly effective learning experience.
Thanks to Lisa Braithwaite | #Public #Speaking #Apply #Adult #Learning #Principles #Effective #Training