This weekend I read an article, How to Work with Adult Learners: What to keep in mind when teaching your peers.
Applying adult learning principles to peer-based interactions is interesting to me, so I thought I'd give it a quick read. The author was speaking to individuals who are preparing for presentations in meeting type settings. It contained typical advice for individuals new to creating presentations:
- Adults want to know the "why.”
- They want their prior knowledge to be respected. Relevance is of the utmost importance.
The author went on to provide some items to consider when planning to engage adults in a presentation. One observation made me want to bang my head against a wall:
"Adult learners aren’t prioritizing learning — In certain situations, a training or presentation can simply be a meeting 'to get through.' Energy, interest, and attention are so low that your students are clearly disengaged. It’s pivotal to keep this in consideration when in front of a group of adult learners. They may only be in the room because of their manager."
Adult learners aren’t prioritizing learning? People are only in class because their manager expects them to be there?
Don’t misunderstand me…. I am not saying the author's perception is wrong. Perception is often reality whether we like it or not. But, to see it written there – so blatantly – on the page, made me cringe. Like our dirty laundry was being aired for all to see.
People! It's 2019! Aren't we beyond making individuals feel like prisoners to their own learning experiences? With all of the research on how to keep learners engaged, the focus on personalized learning journeys, and the instructional technologies available, how are these circumstances still happening?
Let's break this statement down:
1. Adult learners aren’t prioritizing learning. I am not sure this is entirely true. I think it would be more true to say that “Adult learners aren’t prioritizing the learning the organization is providing.” We are learning all the time. (Click here for some tips on how to make lifelong learning a priority.) We are constantly searching for answers: using mobile devices, search engines, and peers. Modern learning needs to be about aligning learner intent with the desired organizational outcome of the presentation or training. If the learner intent is to get out of the presentation as fast as possible so they can return to work, it is hard to align that with an organizational goal of, for example, increasing personal productivity by 10%.
2. In certain situations, a training or presentation can simply be a meeting “to get through.” Why is this the case? The implication is that we are providing training just to check a box. If we have people together in the same room (in-person or virtual room) we can prove that they have ‘learned.’ If they don’t listen, it isn’t the speaker’s fault, right?
These required get-togethers can be very expensive. (I challenge you to multiply the number of people in the room by the average hourly rate, and then consider if the money spent on that presentation had a higher rate of return than a short email summary of facts or a five-minute video with the highlights.) If the attendees don’t see the value, you may actually get a negative return on investment on such an event.
3. Energy, interest, and attention are so low that your students are clearly disengaged. The perception here seems to be that people who attend are already disinterested and not motivated to learn. If this is the case, the presentation is already doomed to failure.
4. They may only be in the room because of their manager. This might be the most disturbing part of this perception. It implies that managers force people to attend presentations and training for reasons OTHER then providing relevant, actionable knowledge or skills. This perception often lies at the core of learner stress.
How can new facilitators change the negative perception of their presentation just being something people need to get through, and help them to make learning a priority?
1. Help attendees prioritize learning by communicating a clear outcome prior to the presentation. Keep it simple and on point. “Andy’s presentation will give you the opportunity to increase your personal productivity 10% right away."
2. Make a training or presentation more than something “to get through” by supplementing any content with checklists, tools, and action items. Provide data or evidential anecdotes to ensure relevance. Then do this every time you get together. Attendees will start to look forward to these sessions, rather than enduring them.
3. Ensure energy, interest, and attention by designing the interaction. Minimize slides and maximize discussion. The more people that can participate, the more compelling these conversations can be. Motivate attendees prior to the session, and engage them environmentally, intellectually, and emotionally once they are there. After all, getting learners to class and keeping them there is a shared responsibility
4. Help managers positively prioritize learning by training them to lay a strong foundation for ongoing progress and learner success. Teach them about adult learning principles, and the importance of motivation and engagement. Remember, they are as invested in the success of every session as the attendees. Perhaps even more so!