Photo by: AndreyPopov via Canva
Chances are, if you’re a training professional, you’ve probably heard the name, Malcolm Knowles. Born in 1913, Knowles was an American educator well known for the use of the term “andragogy.” While “andragogy” might sound like a scary medical term, it is actually the art and science of how adults learn.
More than 30 years ago, Knowles developed a set of core adult learning principles that serve as a foundation for the instructional design and delivery of training. Your goal, as a trainer, is to create a learning environment that implements all these principles—so you can reach all your learners! The principles of adult learning should be built into the instructional design of your course to make sure the training is motivational, interactive, and relevant. This will make your job as the facilitator much easier!
Below is a brief explanation of each principle, with some tips on how to apply it in the virtual classroom. As you read through them, reflect on some of the courses you’re currently delivering and see which of these principles are already in use.
Adults are accustomed to being autonomous and self-directed. They have expectations and wants that need to be met.
Virtual Classroom Application: Allow your participants to create their own ground rules at the beginning of the course. Let them vote using the status icons or weigh in via a poll to determine break times rather than you dictating the amount of time. Finally, since adult learners are self-directed, allow them to discover things on their own and even make mistakes.
Adults bring considerable experience with them. They like to speak, participate, and contribute to the proceedings. They dislike long lectures.
Virtual Classroom Application: Harness the experience of your adult learners. Incorporate peer-mentoring by pairing those with more experience with the newer, less knowledgeable trainees and allow them to interact via the private chat function. Use icebreakers that will reveal shared experiences (e.g. give learners five minutes to list things they all have in common on a whiteboard in breakout rooms using small groups).
Adults have a here-and-now viewpoint. They wish to focus on current issues, rather than material that may be useful in the distant future.
Virtual Classroom Application: Only teach tasks the attendees will use in their current role. Ensure your trainees use the skills within 30 days of the training by following up with their manager or supervisor. Studies show when learning a new skill, if it’s not used within 30 days, 90% of it will be lost.
Adults want courses that focus on real-life problems and tasks rather than academic material. A strong how-to focus is desired. They become restless if their time is being wasted.
Virtual Classroom Application: Teach tasks rather than topics. Maintain a brisk pace and schedule, omitting “nice-to-know” information—focus on what the learners need to know! The virtual classroom is very fast-paced, so save the topics and nice-to-know details for intersession work.
Adults see learning as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. They must know what there is to gain, and they must see progress being made.
Virtual Classroom Application: Point out why it’s important for the trainees to learn the content. Focus on how they’ll benefit personally, and what will happen back on the job if they, or their peers, don’t learn how to do the job properly.
Adults have something to lose. They have a strong need to maintain their self-esteem and feel heard.
Virtual Classroom Application: Make sure that adequate climate building is done before working on the course content (e.g. icebreakers, energizers, and brainteasers). We use puzzles and brainteasers as part of our warmup before each session begins. Most people need to feel safe, secure, and comfortable before they can give their full attention to learning. Create early practice sessions that are easier and more prompted than later sessions. As learners gain proficiency, more complexities can be added to the practice session.
Adults are accustomed to being active. They should be given an opportunity for active participation whenever possible.
Virtual Classroom Application: Build practice sessions throughout the course rather than just at the end and use frequent small-group sessions. Because we’re competing with so many distractions in the virtual classroom, best practice is to engage your learners every 3-5 minutes. Include opportunities for learners to express themselves, work together, and be active.
How many of the seven principles are you currently implementing? What additional tips do you have for incorporating them? How are you building the above principles into your virtual classroom training? I look forward to hearing from you!
Have a look at our How Adults Learn workshop for more techniques that will help you connect with your audience and build your credibility as a trainer. As you learn about each powerful adult learning principle, you’ll see them applied in real-time as they are woven into the activities and exercises of this workshop.