Adults and K–12 students have distinctly different learning styles, mostly because of life experience and maturity levels.
For the most part, adults choose to be in a learning environment; they understand how the content applies to their lives, and they see a direct connection between learning the material and being more successful.
Understanding the motivation adults have to learn as well as the most effective methods to teach them is critical to the success of your training programs, so here are five tips for improving your internal training programs and engaging participants.
1. Get them involved.
Most people retain information more thoroughly and for a longer period of time when they can interact with the material. Some effective ways to keep adult learners engaged include the following:
- Group activities and discussions
- Role playing
- Real-life examples and scenarios
For example, if you are conducting a sales training course, you could pair up the participants and have one be the salesperson and the other a customer. Then, you could present them with a scenario and have them play out the situation. They could also switch roles to see what it’s like on the opposing side.
One important aspect to remember with group activities like this is to discuss them as a class. Actually doing the activity helps participants experience situations from different sides of the spectrum, but analyzing the activity shows them the lessons to be learned and allows them to take away some key points.
2. Show them value and relevance.
If adults are going to spend their precious time, and sometimes even personal money, to take a training course, they want to be able to see how the training is going to improve their skills and increase their knowledge base and marketability.
Training should provide practical solutions that are applicable to the participants’ jobs. For example, a company providing sales training for a new product could first show everyone how to properly use the product, and then allow them to test it out themselves. The employees will have hands-on experience and be more knowledgeable when selling the product.
3. Share their experience.
Adults have gained a lot of experience, work-related and personal, and giving them the opportunity to share that experience helps them and other participants; the instructor doesn’t have to do all of the talking, but participants can learn from each other as well.
Try to connect their experiences with the new content to show relevance. Also, use discussion questions to get the learners to share instances when they have dealt with a certain problem or process, and then sharing various experiences can facilitate more learning and keep everyone engaged.
For example, if an instructor is talking about protocol for avoiding legal implications, someone in the class might have had a specific experience with the topic that could provide participants with a practical and relatable approach to handling situations. Often, instructors can provide generic examples, but it’s also the examples that the participants encounter at their jobs that can really reinforce the material.
4. Make scoring friendly.
Adults typically appreciate having some control over their learning experience. To give them this control, you can avoid quantitative scoring for assessments or allow a number of corrective attempts before the final results are recorded. Avoiding letter grades removes pressure and allows participants to focus on the actual learning without the pressure of being scored.
Alternatives to traditional assessments include the following:
- Skills demonstrations: Participants can show what they learned by demonstrating their skills in a realistic job environment or by completing a relevant task. This will show their understanding of how to apply the content in addition to their knowledge about the subject.
- Discussion questions: Instructors can gauge participants’ understanding of the material by posing questions that call for detailed responses.
- Group activities: By observing how learners contribute to group activities, instructors can measure their level of competence with the subject matter.
5. Be positive and supportive.
In order to create and maintain a successful training environment, instructors should keep the atmosphere professional yet friendly and treat participants with respect. A positive, supportive atmosphere should encourage the learners to share their opinions and experiences.
In addition, allowing mistakes gives the learners more freedom and motivation to participate. There is usually a way to put a positive twist on an incorrect answer and turn it into a lesson by using supporting explanations and relevant examples.
Another approach is to ask open-ended questions that don’t have a wrong answer, if possible. That way, participants’ answers are all valued, and the instructor can guide the discussion to get to the best option or solution.