I once read that training is only for animals, not for humans, and that I should be doing adult educating not giving training courses! However, whichever word you prefer to use, I hope that like me you enjoy both teaching and learning.
One of my personal mantras is that:
“A day without learning is a day without living”
and I strive to find something new to appreciate every day. Several of my major clients have recently asked me for help in improving their brand building efforts. Whilst this is certainly a good objective, I do wonder sometimes how many courses and workshops really make a difference to the way things are done. I am not dismissing workshops at all, in fact I regularly give training courses but I do understand that it can be a challenge to share knowledge when facing a roomful of adults, peers, or even worse, bosses.
Adult learning is very different from teaching younger people in that by nature we are not as open to change, preferring to stay with our habits, even when we are shown that a new way of thinking or doing might be better. As if that isn’t bad enough, we also generally don’t like group-learning experiences led by a professional.
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Since I know many of you get involved in adult training within your own organisations, I thought it would be useful for me to share some of my own learnings, to help you do it with even more success.
To quote one of my favourite masters, Confucius:
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”
Keeping this in mind and applying it to adult learning here are my 6 tips:
#1. Understand the motivations of your audience
Adults usually have high, some may say unrealistice, expectations or courses, so it is important to clearly articulate and clarify objectives within the first hour. Collect and review them from all participants before you get into the content. Do this again at the end of the course to get agreement from everyone on whether or not they have been met. If people believe that they have been heard, they are much more likely to at least be open to considering the new ideas and processes you will share during the course.
Participants will also have many different reasons for attending a workshop or training session and you need to accept that perhaps very few will have actually chosen to be there. They might therefore resent their (mandatory) participation, have little if any interest in the topic you will be covering, and possible no respect for your own experience and knowledge, nor for the ideas you have to share. Whilst it is unlikely that you will make them all change their minds over the short duration of the course, it is critical that you become aware of these sentiments, as they will remain undercurrents whether you like it or not.
#2. Keep sessions very focused
The above mentioned (lack of) motivation will also mean that adult learners tend to be less interested in standard courses, because they feel they are different from (superior to?) most of the other participants. They are more likely to prefer courses around one precise concept or idea, and which will focus specifically on the application of the tools and processes designed to respond to a relevant problem or opportunity.
It is therefore usually better to run a number of shorter one-topic sessions, than a week-long course covering several different ideas around a subject, if at all possible. These shorter session will most probably improve the likelihood of participants actually actioning their learnings afterwards. In addition, they will reduce, if not completely eliminate, the need for frequent interruptions or absences due to the demands of the every-day work environment. (C3Centricity runs 1-Day Catalyst training sessions; check them out HERE)
#3. Build new learning on top of known processes and tools
Participants will bring a large amount of their own experiences into the classroom, which can be a tremendous asset if you can tap into it. They will learn much better if you can engage them in dialogue. It will anyway be difficult to stop most of them from sharing their ideas and opinions, so it is better to control rather than trying to prevent them from doing so.
People are not naturally open to learning new tools, processes and ways of thinking, so you are likely to meet with more success if you base your new ideas on what is already known. Build and expand on current processes, showing how the additions and changes will be more beneficial. Learning is a means to an end for adults, not an end in itself, as it is for most kids. Increasing or maintaining participants’ sense of self-esteem is a strong secondary motivator; adults can take errors very personally, so they tend to take fewer risks and push to defend known solutions rather than to try new approaches.
#4. Vary speed
Adults have a similarly short attention span to children, but not for the same reasons. Again whether due to a lack of willingness to consider different ways of working, or a (misplaced?) feeling of superiority, adults will want things to progress fast and will lose interest if the program is not presented at their own personally preferred rhythm.
For this reason you should vary the speed of sessions, covering some topics deeply and others more quickly and superficially. Don’t worry about missing in thoroughness though, as you can always go back to resume and deepen the topic later in the day or in a follow-up session should someone request it.
#5. Include breakout sessions
Another solution to this increased likelihood for boredom is to provide more frequent breakout sessions. Whereas in normal workshops a coffee / tea break is provided in addition to lunch, you should include more reasons to have people get up and move around.
Use group breakout exercises, physical tasks, sortings, puzzles, Q&As and even exercise or races to get the juices flowing in mind and body and revitalise their enthusiasm.
#6. Contests and competitions
Adults are very competitive, especially when workshops are being run internally where people know each other, even if only by reputation. Being able to beat the boss or lead a team, make the learning even more enjoyable. The contests could be as simple as the exercises mentioned above, or a full blown case study to be completed during the workshop. And don’t forget the prizes; however small, people love surprises and adults in particular appreciate them, as they become a rare occasion as we grow older.
Following these six tips for improving your own training sessions should help you achieve even greater success and perhaps more importantly lead to increased enjoyment for both you and the participants.
Have I forgotten something? What other ideas do you have for making adult learning more enjoyable? I would love to hear about your own tricks and tips for improving the learning experience for us all.
Images used here were sourced from Microsoft.com