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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!

by Jim Hartigan
August 23, 2011

Let me start by saying that this series on pedagogy (the art or science of teaching) versus andragogy (adult learning theory) has been the most read series we’ve produced in the past 18 months here at Orgwide .  We have already 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.  We also gave you some practical application so that you can begin to put these principles to use.  Now, let’s take a look at the last three principles of adult learning theory.

4. The fourth principle about adult learners is that they are particularly ready to learn when they need new information that can be applied instantly to their immediate situation.  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!  Whereas the first assumption of adult learning, the “need to know” principle, speaks to an adults’ psychological preparation to learn, this assumption, “the readiness to learn,” speaks to their mental preparation.  In other words, adults like to listen to their favorite radio station - WII-FM - the “What’s In It For Me” station.  If you’re playing WII-FM, you’ll get them in the door and in a seat.  The ability to link the information being presented to their specific need to use that information today is paramount to successfully training adults.
5. The fifth principle describes adult learners 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 such as how to make a decision about whether to keep or discard foods based on refrigerator temperatures as opposed to the green mold growing inside the Tupperware.  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.  The internal satisfaction of completing the smaller lessons will serve as a driver to complete the whole lesson.
Now that you know the six principles of adult learning theory, there is no excuse for treating your staff like children while training them!  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!

About the Author:

Jim Hartigan, Chief Business Development Officer and Partner joined OrgWide Services, a Training/e-Learning, Communications, Surveys and Consulting firm in April 2010 after nearly 30 years experience in the hospitality industry, including the last 18 as a senior executive with Hilton Worldwide. Jim’s last position was that of Senior Vice President – Global Brand Services where he provided strategic leadership and business development and support to the $22B enterprise of 10 brands and more than 3,400 hotels in 80 countries around the world. His team was responsible for ensuring excellence in system product quality, customer satisfaction, market research, brand management, media planning, and sustainability.

Jim Hartigan
Chief Business Development Officer & Partner
OrgWide Services
165 N. Main Street, Suite 202
Collierville, TN 38017
office: 901.850.8190  Ext. 230
mobile: 901.628.6586

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