Trainers Guide : How Adults Learn

The division of information into ‘must know’, ‘should know’, ‘could know’ elements will go some way to establishing a balanced lesson plan, but understanding how adults learn will allow us to structure the material into a logical sequence which builds upon a person’s learning pattern. Although learning behaviour is a very complex issue, there are a number of guiding principles which have been established:

1. Learning is a voluntary process.

‘A person convinced against their will, is of the same opinion still.’ Merely because someone attends a training course doesn’t, unfortunately, guarantee that they will learn anything. For learning to take place, the trainee must be convinced that there is some direct benefit gained by acquiring that knowledge. Whatever the student learns they must learn personally. It is not possible yet for the reluctant trainee to engage someone to learn on their behalf. No one can learn for them if they don’t want to. This means that while it is attitude that will decide how much is learnt, it is the trainer’s job to create an environment where people want to learn. The onus is on the trainer to make the subject  matter interesting and relevant so that everyone attending receives something of benefit.

2. Responsibility increases learning.

The good news is that recognizing that the individual controls whether they learn and at what speed, will in itself increase the learning process. Where the trainer has passed over the responsibility for learning to the individual concerned there has been a measurable increase in both the amount learnt and the extent of knowledge retained.

3. Learning builds on existing knowledge.

Adults learn by taking current knowledge and using it as a foundation to build on. The adult capacity to learn is to a great extent dictated by the range of experiences the individual possesses. This is why it is so important to gain some insight into the  background and qualification of those attending the courses for the training to succeed.

4. Learning moves from the simple to the complicated.

If adult learning is dependent on existing knowledge it makes sense to start from the basics and work up gradually to more complicated concepts. If a trainer launches into difficult areas too early they risk losing or alienating the learner completely. The lesson plan should guide the participant through the material step-by-step, grafting new knowledge on to old and verifying that this has been fully understood before moving forward.

5. Each person learns at their own pace.

Although the trainer provides the learning environment it is the individual who dictates the rate of learning. The trainer can influence the pace by putting trainees of approximately equal ability together or by changing the balance of skills completely, but whether this has any effect will ultimately depend on the people involved.

6. Adults learn best by doing.

Adult learning increases in direct proportion to the amount of participation that takes place. This means that any lesson plan must provide opportunities for the group to test their understanding at regular intervals. This involvement may be achieved by role playing, case studies, games or simulations

Source :  The group trainers handbook : designing and delivering training for groups / author,David Leigh.–3rd ed.

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