Many people like to share their skills and knowledge, which is fantastic. One way to do this is via workshops, training or seminars, which is also fantastic. Unfortunately, having a lot of knowledge about a topic doesn’t make someone a trainer. Some training is terrible. Most of us have attended bad training sessions at some time (I know I have!)
There are a number of elements that can make for bad training. They include poor speaking/presentation skills, low-quality content, or not catering to different learning styles. These are all incredibly important. This post is about the Principles of Adult Learning. Anyone who attempts training without adhering to the Principles of Adult Learning is going to fail miserably. Inexperienced trainers think that training adults is the same as teaching children in school. If you have ever had a conversation with both an adult and a child, you know this is not the case. Adult learners have very distinct needs.
Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
No one likes being told what to do. A problem inherent to training adults is when they are forced to undertake training, usually by their boss. To be effective, motivation for learning must come from within. There is theory that one person can’t motivate another to do anything, they can only encourage them to motivate themselves. You need to get buy-in from the participants. They need to why they’re learning, and what’s in it for them. If not, you’re fighting a losing battle. Focus your energy on those who are motivated to learn. I have trained many students who are only undertaking training because they have to. At best, they will simply tune out. At worst, they will be disruptive.
You also need to know what their motivation is. If you’re gathering a group of adults together in a workshop or seminar, you their motivation might be entertainment, networking, to increase confidence, or just get of work for the day.
Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
Participants always have something valuable to contribute. The trainer is unlikely to be the smartest person in the room, or even the most knowledgeable. Ask the participants for their thoughts or experiences about the topic at hand. The best advice I received is that as a trainer you have to forget yourself. Training is not about the trainer. It is about the people who have paid money and/or time to learn something from you. The most useful piece of information they receive might not come from you at all. It might come from someone else sharing their own story. Use that.
Don’t downplay the participants experience and knowledge. It is equally as valid as yours. Instead, draw on their experience and knowledge, and use that the basis to show them new ideas or strategies. And don’t ever tell them that they’re wrong. That is only your opinion, and only serves your ego. I recently witnessed a trainer also claim to know more about a specific industry that they had never worked in than a participant who had worked in the industry for 11 years. Instead, the trainer would have been far better exploring different situations, and testing his own theories.
Adults are goal oriented
Adults seek to undertake learning in order to solve an immediate problem. They have identified a goal, and need to increase their skills or knowledge to achieve it. What goal are you helping them to achieve? This may be different from your goals. If your training isn’t meeting the goals of your participants, they will feel that you are wasting their time.
Adults are relevancy oriented
Remember at the end of high school, when you started wondering why you had to learn algebra? What’s the point? Participants need to know how your training is relevant to them specifically. Why should they know? Why should they care? You need to justify how it is relevant, to that individual, right now.
Adults are practical
Use stories and real-world examples. People like stories, and remember them. (Read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath). Relate theories to the participants life experience and knowledge.
Engage your participants in the training. It is extremely difficult for anyone to have the best learning experience they can while sitting passively and listening. Use activities and discussions frequently. In very large groups, have participants discuss amongst themselves in groups of two or three. Remember the learning styles - visual (seeing), auditory (listening) and kinaesthetic (doing). Listening to you talk will only be appealing for the auditory learners, and even then only for short periods of time.
Adult learners like to be respected
Respect doesn’t just apply to adult learners, but all adults. If you don’t respect them, they won’t respect you. If they don’t respect you, it doesn’t matter how good your content or presentation is, it will fall on deaf ears. I once had a workshop facilitator tell me in front of a group, that because I noticed the spelling mistake they made and forgot what they had been talking about at the same time, I was somehow deficient. Not good.
If someone questions you on your methods or theories, you won’t prove it by saying, “because it just is”. You’re dealing with adults. Respect their intelligence, and explain and justify your answer. If you can’t, you lose not only the argument or debate, but also their respect for you.
If you’re developing training, please remember all of these principles to be successful. And always ask for anonymous feedback from participants by using evaluation forms. Adult learners aren’t necessarily conscience of what they’re own needs are, but they will be able to tell you whether or not they have been met.