MH900422690Last week, we introduced the concept of andragogy, or the theory of adult learning.  Based upon the overwhelming response we received – we hit a nerve!  Therefore, I’m going to take the time to explore each of the principles of adult learning in greater detail – starting with the first three.  I’ll describe each principle and then explain the implications to trainers—in other words, what you might do as a trainer to meet the principle.

 1. First, adults have a need to know why they are being asked to learn something new.  Children are satisfied by your simply asking them to learn something, but adults need a sufficient enough reason for them to learn (read that – sufficient enough reason to THEM, not to YOU).  The material adults are asked to learn must be relevant and applicable to their current tasks.  While children trust what they are learning to be useful sometime in the future (even when that learning is high school calculus or history of the French Revolution), adults expect what they are learning to be immediately useful – and in a meaningful way.

APPLICATION: Understanding that adult learners have a “need to know,” the trainer should look for every opportunity to explicitly link the actual training to the benefits of the training – early and often.  Explain to the participant what they will gain from the training, and the value it is to them.

2. The second principle of adult learning is the role of the learner’s experience.  Adults bring a rich background of experience to their participation in a training program.  They tend to filter every learning activity through their own personal experiences and history – they are grading the training before being graded by the training.  Adults learn most efficiently if they can relate new information to their own experiences and bring them to bear upon the content of the instruction.  While children have little or no experience upon which to draw and are relatively “blank slates,” adults have substantial experience upon which to draw and likely have fixed viewpoints (political views not withstanding).

APPLICATION: Your students’ background of experience can be a rich source of examples from which to base examples and case studies.  You must connect the dots and show the parallel between the new and the familiar.  Discussions, problem-solving exercises, and case studies can be drawn directly from your participants’ experience to help build relevance.  New learning linked to prior experience makes the learning even more relevant to adult participants.  Reinforcing the learning by encouraging the participants to connect it to personal experiences improves retention too.

3. The third principle of adult learning has to do with the learner’s self-concept.  Adults want to take charge of their lives—just like teenagers want to take charge of their lives – but the difference is that adults accept responsibility for what they do (and that’s what I tell my kids too)!  Allowing adults to be self-directed in how they learn increases their commitment to learning.  In other words, involve them directly in the learning experience.  While children rely on others to decide what is important to be learned, adults decide for themselves what is important to be learned.

APPLICATION: Your challenge as a trainer is to encourage and empower them to learn—to create a shared responsibility for the learning.  When adults enter a workshop, they tend to return to a learning style that is comfortable to them, the one they were taught as children—passive learning.  Don’t let them sit and attempt to learn passively.  Provide them feedback about how you see them learning and give them opportunities to explore their own learning styles.  Look for opportunities to help them participate in the learning experience by using their preferred learning styles.

That covers the first three principles and real life ideas on how to incorporate them.  Now, THAT’S a lot of value.  Of course, if you want to learn more, just contact us.  Next week, we’ll explore the other three principles of adult learning.  Until then, remember to take care of the customer, take care of each other, and take care of yourself!

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