Treat me like a kid and I’ll act like one too. Train me like an Adult and I’ll show you what I can do!

– Jim Hartigan

Today’s marks the conclusion of our most widely read blog series we’ve produced on the pedagogy (the art or science of teaching) versus andragogy (adult learning theory). Last week, we discussed the first three principles trainers should be aware of and apply: the learner’s need to know, how the learner’s experience impacts their learning, and how the learner’s self-concept creates a self-directed learning experience increasing their commitment to learn. Now, let’s take a look at the last three principles of adult learning theory.

4. Adult learners are particularly ready to learn when the new information can be applied instantly. This is referred to as the principle of the readiness to learn. Learning that can be applied to potential future situations is not of particular interest to them.

APPLICATION: You can force a child to learn a new concept by using an authoritarian approach (“Just learn it!”), by threatening them with an exam (“This information will be on the test!”), or by explicitly linking a new concept to an interest of theirs. Typically, the authoritarian or exam approach doesn’t work well with most adults…heck; it doesn’t really work that well from a retention standpoint with children. Adults need the “What’s In It For Me” as this gets them in the door or logged in virtually. The ability to link the information to their specific need to use that information today is paramount to successfully training adults.

5. Adult learners are described as “life-centered” in their orientation to learning. They are interested in learning to solve problems or to complete tasks they are encountering every day. Much of training today is subject-oriented or subject-centered. In contrast, adults learn best when the training is task-oriented or task-centered.

APPLICATION: For example, if you were to teach a child about temperature and food safety, you would probably focus on facts for them to remember: what temperatures are safe under which conditions and for which types of foods. To make this topic life-centered or task-centered for adult learners, you would design the training to refer specifically to foods they would actually encounter in a typical day. You would discuss situations they might find themselves in. In other words, you would draw your examples for an adult learner from their everyday lives.

6. The last assumption about adult learners is motivation. Adults are more likely to respond to internal motivators like self-esteem, accomplishment, and satisfaction than to external motivators like promotion or increased salary. The most effective incentives are those that come from within—such incentives will sustain the adult learner’s interest in learning the longest.

APPLICATION: This understanding of adult learners is a very important tool for trainers. It suggests that you should always be looking for ways in which an adult learner can experience the successful completion of a goal. For example, to encourage the completion of a large goal, break it up into smaller, sequential goals and have the adult learner check off on a checklist the completion of each small goal. The satisfaction of completing the smaller goals will keep the learner on the path to completion of the larger and complete goal. Likewise, to teach a long lesson, break the lesson into smaller lessons and follow the delivery of each smaller lesson with an acknowledgement of success.

Use these principles to train them like the adults they are and see your results improve. We’d love to hear how this blog series affected your training methods, so please contact us with any stories you’d like to share! Until then, remember to take care of the customer, take care of each other, and take care of yourself!