Friday, 29 June 2012


Adult learners don’t need information – they need application.

Consider going on a workshop or a project or a training session. In work or out of work. At the time it all makes sense and you can make connections in the context of the classroom (that’s often because the trainers should have engineered it so it works positively). Anyway, you return back to work and after a few days of catching up on missing emails, you think “oh yes, I ought to do some of what I learned last week.”

And nothing happens.

So you ask for a handout or an aide memoir or a bit of written support.

And that is where it just goes wrong. So please can all folk in L+D stop doing it.

FACT: children with learning needs (e.g. struggling with maths or English homeworks) are often put in classes or extra class where they are given more work to do to help them. Easier problems or verbs to learn. They don’t do very well. BUT if given counselling (or coaching, frame it how you like) they do very well – better in fact than their peers without help.
Children make good learners are most of their world is at school and what you can’t succeed in doing one day you can succeed in doing the next as each day and week and term presents more opportunity to get it right. A lot can be learned from this when it comes to adult learning.

Adult learners are different.

It’s a one chance thing really as they have a desk job to commercially deliver upon. They don’t make good learners.

Few (if any) read up on the courses they attend and question the material they are given. A simple google search or Wiki search will fuel them with plenty of information on what they are about to learn and in many cases that’s VERY detailed and far beyond what’s offered on a course. So it’s not a question of information adults want to satisfy their learning needs but application.

Consider me teaching you to change a tyre on a car. I could sit you in my kitchen and show you pictures, tell you stories, draw you sketches, watch films on youtube, go –online to a forum, ask questions, dial up a conference call, web chat, webinar, tweet, act and a whole range of blended learning options.

Or I undo one bolt, you watch and listen to my advice. I then watch you undo the other three. We take it in turns in short stabs of info and immediately apply learning AS WE SOLVE THE TASK so the learning is visceral and real. The added extra is I then watch you teach someone else what you have just learned on the second wheel of the car offering feedback to your coaching style and quality of advice, chosen language, metaphors, stories and timing.

That’s what makes great adult learning.

Handouts are not the answer. They are a symptom of trainers not considering the learning issues and thinking more material makes up for what’s clearly missing in their classroom intervention.

In summary, we learn all the time but at work we learn in a sociocontextual fashion how to be and what to do. We pick up the learning from watching those around us. We adults don’t make good learners when training isn’t thought out for us. Adults have forgotten how to learn (or don’t realise that they need to change their behaviour a little to lock in the new content). You don’t have to read very far to see the statistics on how much is learned before and after the interventions.

If there is a constant request after your training for some more material don’t give it to participants but think on why it is they are asking.
It’s because the want is there to apply but the ability to do so isn’t. You can’t teach the ability transfer bit, you can only pass on information. It’s in the coaching whilst doing the magic happens.

Change your programme design so there is more of that and more opportunity for live work on live projects and material and see what happens...

Now, go save your photocopier and yourself a lot of wasted time.

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