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Using Principles of Adult Learning to Motivate Learners

There are certain accepted “principles” about adult learning, specifically about adult learners themselves and what motivates them to take training.

These principles about adult learners include that they:

  • Are goal-oriented
  • Need to find relevancy to real work in training
  • Are self-directed
  • Bring a certain level of knowledge and real-world experience into the training

Accommodating these principles can not only create more effective training, but can help to motivate adult learners.

Adult learners are unique in that they have a number of responsibilities that young learners do not have. Between home and work, there are several constraints to training such as time, money, and opportunity. Therefore, adult learners will only spend the time and money on training that provides them with professional opportunities. That is why the best way to motivate adult learners is to increase their reasons for taking the training.

Start with the objectives. If the goals of the training are relevant to their current positions, or a position that they are hoping to attain, they will be far more motivated to enroll in and get the most out of the training. A training needs analysis is a useful tool for differentiating between the knowledge and skills that are not needed, and those that are. Adult learners also need concrete experiences in which they apply the learning in real work. If opportunities are not built into professional development activities that allow the learner to practice the learning and receive structured, helpful feedback, then there will be no retention of training and it then becomes a waste of time and money.

And because they are goal-oriented, make sure that the participants in an adult learning course have something that they can take away that they can either use on-the-job or to attain other jobs or responsibilities, such as job aids and certification. Usually, adult learners come to training knowing what specific goals they want to attain, so it’s good research to pose the question “Why are you here?” in the classroom setting.

Keeping in mind that adult learners are autonomous and self-directed, give them room to make choices and decisions within the training. The adult learner needs to have some control over the what, who, how, why, when, and where of their learning. One way to do this is give a variety of exercises to choose from. For example, if the exercises are scenario-based, let them choose the scenario that they are most comfortable with where they can draw upon their real-world experiences. Or let them form their own working groups, or create their own exercises and assignments. If the learner has a say in the curriculum, they are more likely to be motivated to take the training, because they are more likely to get more real-world value from the training.

Adult learners have a wealth of knowledge and experience and they may feel the need to share this knowledge and experience in the training course. Therefore, having ample time for discussion is one way to engage the learner. And by providing the opportunity for learners to share their stories and opinions, it allows other participants to learn from peers, as well as the course content.

If you keep these principles in mind when designing and facilitating adult learning courses, you will not only be more successful as a training professional, but you will make your training sought after by adult learners looking for a reason to take training!