The other day, I had a really good conversation with a friend and colleague. At one point, the topic turned to adult learning philosophy. We waxed philosophic for a few minutes, and then the conversation moved on to something else. But that conversation got me thinking about my own philosophy of learning.
Now, don’t you worry, my friends. I haven’t forgotten what I said on my About page:
“I write the way I talk. The way I facilitate. I like analogies and metaphors; I dislike pompous-sounding writers who make things more complicated than they need to be.”
That is true – more than ever – so don’t think I’m going to start spouting off jargon or theories from Bloom or Kolb or any of those other smarties, although I do give those folks plenty of credit and refer to them often. But for today, here is my common-sense, real-world, chat-over-a-cup-of-coffee view on adult learning:
1. Keep it real and relevant.
Adults are seeking learning opportunities that are based in practical, real-world experience. Save the textbook, hypothetical hullaballoo (umm, did I just say hullaballoo?) for the university. Adults need to know that they can apply what they’ve learned to their jobs. To their daily tasks and projects. They have chosen to spend their valuable time in training…well, some of them have chosen. Regardless of whether they made the choice to attend training or whether it was required for their job, they need to know that this is time well spent.
2. Keep it timely.
Adults need to know that the material they are learning is pertinent to what they are currently experiencing, not something that may or may not be helpful months down the road. Technical trainers, make sure that your participants will actually be using the skills they learn in training right away so they can transfer the classroom experience to the job. I could keep going about learning transfer and improved performance, but I’ll spare you today. Another post, perhaps!
3. Keep it engaging and inclusive.
I wrote a piece awhile back about similarities in teaching adults versus teaching children. While it was a little tongue-in-cheek, there was some truth to it. Check it out here if you’d like.
While there are some fundamental similarities, the truth is, adults simply learn differently than children do. Think back to when you were a kid…you sat at your desk, your teacher stood at the front of the room and presented a lot of content to you. She might have used a textbook, an overhead projector, a map, a chalkboard or a smelly, purple-ink ditto page as her vehicle, but the message was clear: “I am the adult. I am the expert. Your learning goes through me.”
And maybe that was fine when you were 8 years old, learning about long division or Magellan or possessive pronouns for the first time.
But, like I said, adults are different.
Adults bring a variety of experiences, baggage, bias, ideas, motives, likes, dislikes, opinions, fears and needs to each and every training session, regardless of how its delivered. It is our job to meet those needs by creating an inclusive, welcoming environment that allows participants to learn, be challenged and take something applicable and relevant back to the job.
We also need to be engaging. Most adults learn best in an interactive setting. It is critical that we leverage the techniques, tools, resources and industry know-how that we have accumulated to develop and deliver engaging learning experiences for our participants. Allow them to contribute. Encourage them to participate. Ask them to share their experiences.
And, for the love of all that is righteous, don’t read them a PowerPoint and think that they’ve “learned” something.
So, there you go. A few thoughts on my philosophy of adult learning. Maybe it’s similar to your own philosophy. Maybe you have a different viewpoint. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts! As always, feel free to comment, email or hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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