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Knowing These 4 Adult Learning Principles Will Make You More Effective

Our participants come into our training course with an agenda of what they want to see, hear and learn. Unfortunately, that agenda is locked away in their brains. So how can we get to it to find out what they want? We could ask them, but we'll likely not get the full story. What if there was a way you, the training professional, could better prepare?

The best way to prepare is to understand what the training industry knows about adult learners. Malcolm Knowles was a pioneer in the development of the core principles of adult learning theory. In my Train-the-Trainer workshops, we focus on the four adult learning principles listed below.

What's in it for me?

Your participants want to know what they are going to get out of your training and how it is relevant to them. They saw your marketing information and read over your agenda/outline/syllabus prior to registering for your course. But chances are, they haven't re-read that information since.

Your challenge is to make sure that within the first few minutes of your course, you present the value they will gain from attending your course. Tell them what they will know and what they will be able to do better, faster or more efficiently at the end of your course. Specifically, you will communicate:

  • Why they need the information in your course

  • How they will benefit

  • How they can use what they learn in their job

They have a wealth of experience

Your participants enter your training with vastly different experiences. Some may have decades of experience in your industry - way more than you. Some may have come from other industries or may have been with the company from the beginning. When you combine the collective experiences of your participants, you are no longer the smartest person in the room. Should that concern you?

If you have designed your course to actually tap into that collective experience, then no. There are ways to ask participants about their experience without it becoming a tangential conversation that veers way off course. You just have to planned and purposeful about how you do it, something we will cover often in this blog.

They want to feel safe, comfortable and respected

If you are allowing opportunities for them to share their stories and experience, you've taken a huge step toward making them feel safe, comfortable and respected.

But establishing this environment begins before the class, when you greet each participant as they enter the room. Yes, that means you, introverts! Or you, last-minute reviewers. Your prep stops when the first participant arrives. Give them your attention and ask them questions.

They want and need to be actively involved

In my experience designing technical training, the consistent "How can we improve this course?" feedback is: More hands-on training.

Whether you are an instructional designer, trainer, facilitator or simply someone who sees a training need and addresses it, you know this. All those times you sat in a training course and were talked to for hours. Slide after complicated slide lulling your brain into a trance-like state. You wanted to be involved, to share your experience, to hear stories from the other participants.

You know the value of involvement - of engaging your participants - so why do we drop the ball when we are the training professional?

What's one thing you are doing to engage your participants? Where do you struggle with this?

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