Adult Learning… It’s as easy as riding a bike!

Remember the first time you ditched the training wheels and took off all by yourself on your bicycle? The exhilaration was palpable combined with a little fear of the unknown as the wind raced through your hair and you dreamed of the places you would go. No doubt, you ruled the world… or at least your own neighborhood block. Most importantly, you beamed with pride, and told everyone within earshot about mastering that two-wheeled beauty with high handlebars, cool banana seat, and colorful streamers! Learning is a lot like that.

As adults, we’ve long mastered how to ride a bike, but the process of learning is even more important today. With the demands of today’s global economy, we’re riding the equivalent of the Tour de France with all of its challenges and complexities. Rapid-fire changes in technology and the roller coaster economy require companies to understand the adult learning process and maximize learning capabilities to compete more effectively.

There are six assumptions about adult learning that we can glean from that first bike experience to help design more effective learning experiences. These assumptions are based on the work of Malcom Knowles, long considered the “Father of Adult Learning.”

Need to Know
Why does a child want to ride a bike? To explore new adventures! The same is true of adults. Learning new skills opens up a vast world of opportunities for adults and it is important to tap into why this learning is important to their life and career. Adults need to know why they are being asked to learn something new before they will engage.

Why does a child want to ride without training wheels? To do it all by themselves! Adults want to be treated as capable of self-direction with control over the learning process. Whether it’s online or classroom learning, provide the learner with lots of choices and opportunities to learn in more than one medium.

When a child learns to ride a bike, they build on their experience to escalate them to freedom on the open sidewalks. Adults also build upon their experiences, but the big difference is that they have a vast amount of experiences to build upon, and they filter any new learning activities through their own personal biases and presuppositions. These experiences represent the richest resource for learning and it is helpful to employ discussions, problem-solving exercises and case studies to utilize them fully.

Here’s where we encounter the famous WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). What’s in it for a child to learn to ride a bike? Maybe they need to ride so they can play with their friends or to make their family proud. The key word here is “need.” For adult learners, you can add “immediate” as a driver for learner readiness. Adults need new information that can be applied instantly to their immediate situation. It’s important to link new information to their specific need to use that information, and ensure that it is immediately transferable to their world.

For a five-year old child, riding a bike is the pinnacle of achieving full potential. For adults, it is a lot more complex, but the core assumption is the same. Adult learners are interested in learning to solve problems that they are currently facing and want to be able to apply whatever knowledge or skill they gain to achieve their full potential in life.

While a child may be motivated by getting a bell on the handlebars, the most effective motivators for adults are those that come from within. Adults are more likely to respond to internal motivators like self-esteem, accomplishment and satisfaction. That’s an important factor to consider for sustaining their interest in curriculum development as well as facilitation.

These six assumptions about adult learning continue to serve us well today. To stay competitive with a performance worthy of the Tour de France, we have to keep learning. Albert Einstein said it best, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Orgwide can help your organization keep moving forward with customized learning solutions.  

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