How to Facilitate Successful Adult Learning Journey

The learning journey does not begin or end at formal education. More and more of us start to understand the importance and benefits of lifelong learning. With societal, economic, cultural, and technological transformations around us, the ways we work, communicate, travel, or even study have significantly changed. Continuous learning helps us stay abreast of all these changes.

It is not surprising that the fast-paced world has turned adult learning into a critical matter. However, the way adults choose to learn is different from that of younger children. Older students enter education institutions and training centers with life and work experiences that are coupled with responsibilities. Thus, they are selective with what they choose to study or listen to. To turn an adult learning journey into a successful outcome one must understand student needs and tailor teaching experience to it. To reach the understanding, knowing, and understanding adult learning theory and principles would be essential.

What is different about teaching adults?

The theory of adult learning is called Andragogy. It addresses the best ways of teaching and contextualizes with students’ age. Being one of the pioneers in Andragogy, Malcolm Knowles noted the following characteristics of adult learners:

  • They need to know why they are learning the specific thing
  • They learn by doing
  • They are problem solvers
  • They learn best if the subject is of immediate use
  • They prefer learning by social interaction
  • They like to use their life experiences in the classroom
  • They want to integrate new ideas with existing knowledge

Considering the above, there are many different ways one could develop the instruction path. Depending on the preferences, it is debatable what would be considered as the most effective option. However, the practical approach suggests considering the below aspects.

Who is your target audience?

It is extremely important to understand the profile and background of your learners. Knowing what they already know and what they expect from specific learning activities can help customize the content and the way it is delivered. Ideally, conducting the learner needs assessment could help assess gaps in learning and would instruct the way forward.

What are the learning objectives?

Defining learning objectives helps puts the purpose of learning in concrete and measurable terms. Before deciding on these, it is important to determine what kind of learning your students are expected to gain. Identifying the type of learning – Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes (KSA) can facilitate the process of defining objectives. As a rule of thumb, training purpose must be anchored in learning needs, skills, knowledge, and deficit, and what your learners would need to know in actual terms. Practical learning objectives can be built using the SMART technique or the ABCD model.

How large should the class size be?

Drawing on industry best practices, the ideal class size is usually within the limit of 15 people. This is true for the face-to-face learning mode. Smaller class sizes make it easier to break into groups or work on activities and use other learning methods besides simple lecturing. The more complex the material is, the more it will be needed to work on activities and practice-based scenarios to ensure desired learning outcome is achieved.

What should be the choice of instructional method?

There is a wide variety of instructional methods to choose from. One would need to keep the selected method of teaching when developing the materials.

  • Case Studies, Role Plays, and Group Discussions– help participants explore learning points themselves and practice skills used in interactions.
  • Classroom Training, Lectures, and Lecturettes– can help convey information that requires minimal or no interaction, or such is not considered possible. Ideal when the time for teaching is short.
  • Experiential Learning– supports learners with trying out new concepts, processes, or systems in a controlled environment.
  • Games, Table-tops, and Simulations– usually complex, but allow participants to manipulate the situation. One of the best ways to achieve and maximize participant involvement and interaction. Effective for developing complex practical skills.
  • Writing Tasks and Projects– help participants reflect on what they have learned, leaving the space for individual work.
  • Self-study– ideal when self-paced learning is needed. Best used as computer-based modules, CD-ROM/DVD learning, and web-based virtual labs.

How to deliver a successful learning experience?

People tend to remember more when they practice or apply their learning in practice. The amount of information one remembers is in direct proportion to the amount of involvement s/he had in the learning. Edgar Dale, the originator of “The cone of learning” suggests that after two weeks in learning we remember:

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we heard
  • 30 % of what we saw
  • 50 % of what we saw and heard
  • 70 % of what we said
  • 90% of what we did

Thereby, it is essential for an educator to select the appropriate method of teaching and place more emphasis on learning by doing.

How to select a delivery method?

With technology progressing at a stunning pace, a greater variety of training delivery methods become available. One could choose between face-to-face, online, hybrid (blended), non-formal, or problem-based learning. The selection of delivery mode would depend on participant background, availability, learning objectives, and environmental factors.

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