Now we have the initial planning of our training programmes outlined, it is important to align on how we train the basis of these plans.
Adults learn differently from children and this needs to be addressed in how workplace training is implemented.
At WeDiscover, we are basing our training approach on Malcolm Knowles’ work on andragogy & the 7 principles of adult learning that derive from this work:
Adults must want to learn
Adults will learn only what they feel they need to learn
Adults learn by doing
Adult learning focuses on problem solving
Experience affects adult learning
Adults learn best in an informal situation
Adults want guidance and consideration as equal partners in the process
Below, we break down each principle and how it aligns with how we run our training.
1. Adults must want to learn
Gone are the days of being dragged to school in the morning. In adulthood, learning (or at least attending school) is no longer a government-mandated requirement. Adults only learn when they want to.
Though we are lucky in that our WeDiscover colleagues typically have an intrinsic motivation to learn, we still employ some basic principles to encourage learning across the business:
Self-selection - training should be opt-in for the most part. Though some exclusions apply, mainly in aspects such as regulatory compliance training that is essential to one's job role, it is important for attendees to choose to be there. To encourage attendance, it is important to give context to why a session is being conducted.
Time allocation - typically a lack of available time can be a primary driver for people not wanting to attend a session. Someone sitting in a training session thinking about some client work they know they need to do before the end of the day is going to struggle to commit to a training session. At WeDiscover we account for learning time when thinking about capacity, so delivery of other work will not impact the ability to attend training.
2. Adults will learn only what they feel they need to learn
Similarly adults will only learn what they need to learn and therefore we need to ensure clarity around why a training session is being delivered.
Qualifying why the session is being run & why the specific attendees are in attendance is important to bring everyone together.
Note that it should be clear that the session is needed specifically by those in the session. If the reasons for those attending differ greatly then the content is not going to match what is required for those individuals. In this case, we would look to split the cohort into smaller groups who share learning requirements.
Example: WeDiscover recently ran a training session on how we approach and build training internally for current employees. Everyone who attended will be helping build training content for our first entry level training program in 2022 and this target was made clear at the session.
3. Adults learn by doing
Adults need to be active in the learning process. A training session in the workplace should avoid lecturing techniques as much as possible. Actively using discussion to develop ideas is a more effective way to learn.
The lecture format does still hold value in certain situations, specifically when the cohort is extremely large. Promoting an open discussion & active learning situation with hundreds of participants is not going to create an atmosphere of learning for all participants. However, in the workplace we should be able to break down larger groups into smaller cohorts to run active learning sessions.
Active learning tools, including breakout rooms, presentations, flipped classrooms, and quizzes can all help to increase the active participation of a training session.
4. Adult learning focuses on problem solving
Building on a focus on active learning, training sessions for adults should focus on problem solving.
Children learn through a curriculum, working on skills sequentially to build up an overall understanding of a topic. This layering up technique means that sometimes knowledge appears to be learnt for the sake of it (think back to school and someone asking “why do we need to learn this for the real world?”). Often the true value of the knowledge is not clear until a later aspect is built on top of it.
For adults, we should begin with the problem and frame the session against this goal. If some basic knowledge needs to be instilled, framing this removes the abstract quality that could make the session feel pointless. This also helps us with the second directive of ensuring the need for them to learn the content is clear.
5. Experience affects adult learning
This tends to be one of the biggest differences between pedagogy (child learning) & andragogy.
Especially in the workplace, most attendees to a session would have some previous experience.
Though in an ideal world, formalised training beyond an early careers program would precede any active work on a topic, in industries as fast changing as digital marketing this isn’t always possible. A new product can be released by publishers and be in use before a best practice can be formalised. Similarly, with a test and learn approach, new perspectives will constantly develop. Therefore, often training will follow a period of active usage of a product/strategy. In this case the attendees will bring a degree of existing knowledge on the subject.
Similarly, attendees may have had a form of training before, for example at a previous company. Furthermore, many topics covered in the workplace, such as business or soft skills, will build on common sense and general life experience.
This can be a real asset to a training session. Frequently a training session should only be facilitated rather than taught. A good training session will often just give agency to a participant's existing knowledge and reframe this to be accessed throughout their career.
However, there are times where existing knowledge can be a limiting factor. If existing knowledge is incomplete or inaccurate it can impact the reception of training.
Either way, experience will always impact learning and this needs to be reflected in the delivery and creation of any training.
6. Adults learn best in an informal situation
Adults are not necessarily taught, instead the role of the teacher is that of a facilitator. Rather than standing at the front of a room and lecturing a group, the facilitator should create an informal and comfortable environment where participants feel comfortable sharing and discussing learning objectives.
Using tools such as icebreakers can help introduce an informal situation with a new group.
7. Adults want guidance and consideration as equal partners in the process
What should hopefully be clear is that the student/teacher dynamic of pedagogy is no longer relevant with andragogy.
Instead of being told what to learn and what is correct, adults should use training to discuss and evaluate information, deciding for themselves what is relevant to implement to their role.