How and Why: Motivating Adult Learners

Professional adult learners needs contextual and self-directed learning

Dugan Laird, a noted trainer, consultant and author, has written extensively on andragogy, the study of teaching adults. He notes that it’s important to recognize the maturity of the learner. Adult learning should be problem-centered, rather than content-centered. Your employees aren’t taking this online course so that they can memorize the multiplication tables; they want to learn how to handle on-the-job problems.

Allow your learners to set their own goals. What do THEY want to learn? Laird writes that adult learners need to be actively involved in establishing learning objectives. Consider creating a pre-training survey with an e-Learning authoring tool like Lectora® Inspire to find out what your learners want to improve on. Then provide resources that allow them to work on those specific items.

Sometimes these resources are books, videos or articles that you put online via a learning management system like CourseMill™ Wave to create a centralized knowledge hub. Or perhaps the best resource is another person. Encourage your learners to connect with peers, whether it’s in person or through your LMS’s instant messaging system. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 92 million adults (or 46 percent of the U.S. adult population) participated in some form of adult education in 2001—which means you have a lot of learners to connect!

Principles of Adult Learning

Over the years, researchers have compiled many guiding principles of adult learning. Here are a few to keep in mind when trying to motivate adult learners:

  • Present your information in a way that facilitates mastery. Offer bite-size chunks of information rather than everything in one fell swoop. Here’s some more information on content chunking: Content (Chunking) is King!
  • Only present new information if it’s meaningful and practical. The connection to job tasks must be clear or your learner will lose interest.
  • Use feedback and frequent summarization. Keep summaries of completed activities vibrant and strong to reinforce the learning.
  • Adult learning is integrative. Your employees most likely already have knowledge and experience. Allow them to use what they already know to test out of redundant learning modules. Use branching scenarios that send them to more advanced modules where they can build on their current knowledge.
  • Use the whole-part-whole concept, where you show the overall picture, followed by the details and then a refresher to summarize the overall concept.

Keep these tips in mind as you’re designing your next e-Learning course for adults. You’ll be able to keep your learners engaged and motivated if they see the value of the training and feel respected as autonomous learners.

Have more tips for motivating adult learners? Share them in the comments here or join the conversation on Twitter with @Lectora!

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