Childhood vs. Adult Learning: 3 Simple Truths

Is workplace learning really all that different from teaching children?

I started my career teaching children – Pre-K and Kindergarten – and I loved it!  It was always so rewarding to walk away at the end of the day knowing that we were shaping young lives; building a foundation that they will rely on for the rest of their lives.  Plus we had snacks.  And recess.  And summers off.  But I digress…

My transition to teaching adults began in 1999, when I was given the opportunity to prepare a training workshop for fellow teachers.  I cannot believe that was 13 years ago!  At first, I thought it would simply be a nice bullet point on my resume – nothing more.  Little did I know, that the whole process of organizing and delivering a learning event for adults would be SO much fun, that I would end up altering the course of my entire career – ultimately leaving the education environment, in favor of the corporate learning scene.  There are days I miss it – the adorable art projects, the hugs, and the funny things kids would always say.  Today I wonder where those kids are…most of them are probably in college at this point – some are probably OUT of college and in the workforce, which makes me feel very old!

So, that makes me wonder…is childhood learning really all that different than adult learning?  In some ways, yes.  Absolutely.  A 30-year old is going to learn differently than a 6-year old.  But there are some areas where working with adults really isn’t all that different than working with children.  Here are 3 simple truths that both adult and child learners share in learning environments:

1.  Everyone needs a bathroom break.

When you plan the agenda for your learning event, it’s important to remember that people need a break from time to time!  Whether to use the restroom, find a snack, get up and stretch, or step outside for some fresh air.  Not only do you need to schedule frequent breaks, but you should also make sure you change your topic or activity every so often.  A good rule of thumb is to change your method at least every 20 minutes, and change your topic at least every 90 minutes.  This will give you plenty of opportunities to give short breaks to your audience.  Their attention spans will thank you for it!

2.  Consider your audience and teach to their level. 

In elementary school, you wouldn’t teach high school calculus to a classroom of first graders.  Same goes in corporate learning.  What does your audience need?  What is the experience level?  What tools and resources do they access?  What will they be responsible for knowing or doing after completing the training session?  These are all items that a thorough needs analysis will help you plan for.  (By the way, be on the lookout for an upcoming post on my new favorite iPad app for instructional design and needs analysis!) 

3.  Make sure everyone plays nice in the sandbox.

Classroom management really isn’t something that is unique to teaching children.  There will always be different personalities, backgrounds, and experience levels that create a variety of group dynamics and differing opinions.  Adults naturally bring more passion and conviction for their beliefs than children do.  Adults also want to have the opportunity to share their experiences with the group – sometimes this is a welcome component to the agenda, and other times it can be a distraction!  (Facilitators – can I get an amen?!)  As an experienced facilitator, you should always have a proactive approach to managing your classroom.  Stay a couple of steps ahead of your audience.  Mix up seating assignments, plan exercises to get people moving, assign a “problem student” a task to keep him/her busy and less focused on disrupting the rest of the group.

I have been out of the teaching environment for over a decade now; sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go back.  And then I realize that I don’t need to go back to teaching children to facilitate learning. Young or old, everyone has learning needs.  And I have the privilege of bringing learning experiences to others!

Sound off!  I could elaborate on each of these three truths, but I’ll pause for now and turn it over to you, fellow learning practitioners!  What other similarities do you link between teaching in a school environment, versus training in a corporate environment?

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4 thoughts on “Childhood vs. Adult Learning: 3 Simple Truths

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