3 Learning Lessons from Sesame Street


Like many kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I learned on the Street. Sesame Street, that is. Watching this show was a daily occurrence when I was a tot.

Sesame Street is celebrating its 45th birthday this week! To think of how many millions of children have been introduced to learning through this show is simply incredible. Today, as a tribute to the institution that is Sesame Street, here are 3 lessons that adult learning professionals can take away:

1. The show is real and relevant.

Throughout the run of the show, Sesame Street hasn’t steered away from introducing kids to tough topics. One that stands out to me is when the actor who played Mr. Hooper passed away in real life. Instead of replacing the actor and moving on with the show, they tackled the sad truth head-on.

The lesson: In our organizations, keep it relevant through times of incessant change (or even turmoil). Align your programs and messaging to your business objectives. There should never be a question of how your program connects to your organizational strategy.


2. Children interact with trusted adults. And celebrities. And puppets!

One of the most entertaining parts of the show is when children are involved – whether they are dancing and giggling with Elmo or singing a song with a movie star. The show (and learning) is at its best when everyone is engaged.

The lesson: Get people and teams out of their silos. Connect employees with leaders. Get new associates paired up with a buddy or mentor. What is your team doing to establish and maintain a collaborative environment?


3. Learning is fun, gosh darnit.

I highly doubt that I would have learned how to read, count, be a good friend, have empathy or accept people who are different than I am had the show not have been FUN to watch.

The lesson: Are your learning programs (whether through face-to-face, online or other methods) engaging? Are they – dare I say – enjoyable? If not, maybe 2015 is the year your team takes an honest look at your offerings!


This week, I’m celebrating Sesame Street. I’m thinking back to the lessons I learned as a kid…and the lessons the show continues to teach today. Happy 45th birthday, Sesame Street!

Your turn: Did you watch Sesame Street when you were a kid? What lessons did you learn? Who were your favorite characters (people or puppets)? What else can we take away from the show that can help us develop as learning professionals? Use the comments to share your thoughts and memories!


Know of someone who fondly remembers the Street? Be kind and share this post!


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In Learning, It’s Okay to be a Rule-Breaker


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to developing learning programs, I’m a bit of a rule-breaker. There are smarties out there who have developed complex models on how adults learn, where adults learn and why we should follow these rules.  I respect them. And sure, they have merit. But the rigidity is where I’m left shaking my head. Every organization is unique. People, industries and priorities vary. How can we expect this one-size-fits-all approach to be effective?

Today, my mind goes to the humble training session.  Namely, mind-numbing training sessions, where PowerPoint reigns supreme. Tell me, how can a facilitator believe that spewing dozens of wordy slides at participants equates a learning experience?

Not long ago, I was talking to a colleague about this very topic. He told me about some creative things his team was doing, which sent my mind spinning. At the day job, we had been considering some “different” learning events to shake things up in our new leadership development program.  It left me thinking…

Who says we can’t do something different?

That “something different” meant hosting a leadership development discussion. Nothing new, right? Well…

We’re hosting it in a bar. A local brewpub, to be exact. Who says people can’t talk about leadership over some microbrews?

The proprietor of this brewpub will be joining us, and giving a brief talk about the evolution of their brand. Their commitment to their customers, particularly as advocates for their brand. Their involvement in the community. What their brand meant to him in the beginning…and what it means to him now. And then, we’ll draw some comparisons to our organization, and what lessons we can take back to our world.

I could easily gather a roomful of participants in the office, throw a few slides up on the screen, and talk leadership. Brand advocacy. Customer awareness. And we might have a pretty darn good discussion about it. But, a year from now, will those participants necessarily remember it? Maybe. But then, maybe not.

Will they remember the time the L&D team hosted Leadership Happy Hour, where we met at the brewpub and sampled some drinks and talked candidly about our brand? You betcha. Creating memorable, meaningful, relevant learning experiences is our job, friends. It’s okay to think outside the box and try something new.

Your turn: How do you facilitate meaningful learning experiences in your organization? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Let’s Get Philosophical


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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