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5 Teaching techniques that annoy adult learners

This post has been updated on July 9, 2020.

So, you’ve created an online training course, you’ve gathered all the materials, you’ve put a lot of effort into making it look nice, but something just doesn’t click with your adult learners.

More often than not, instructional designers spend a lot of time on perfecting their courses but forget how to actually teach. And that’s why they shouldn’t be surprised if their learners find their teaching style outdated, not engaging, and sometimes downright annoying.

Make sure to follow these 5 teaching techniques if you want to annoy your adult learners:

1. Don’t be clear about the usefulness of your e-learning course

Adult learners are not interested in training that is not relevant to their role or professional objectives. And why should they be? The days when they had to study a topic that didn't interest them just to get a good final score at an exam are long gone.

Today we’re talking about specialized professionals that need clear answers to questions like:

  • Why is your e-learning course structured the way it is?
  • Do all modules bear the same importance for the final certification?
  • What’s the main skill they will learn in each module and how can they apply it in real-life situations?
  • How much time will they need to go through the entire course?

Don’t just dive into the training materials without taking the time to explain their usefulness to your learners. Having a clear picture of the benefits of any training will not only make them more engaged with the course, but they will also be more productive.

2. Omit humor from your e-learning content

We are all humans and we all like to laugh. Just because adult learners spend most of their week's time in an office, that doesn't mean they don't have emotions or they don't appreciate humor.

They might forget to put a smile on their faces between so many stressful deadlines and urgent matters or keep a frowned forehead at an out-of-context joke, but the bottom line is that humor is hard-wired in our human brains and it can help with the learning process.

For example, personal anecdotes or short stories about one relevant character for the course subject is a great way to start. Also, this can help your learners perceive you as an open and approachable course instructor instead of the rigid I-teach-you-take-notes-and-don't-question-anything-I-say type of professor some of them had in college.

Of course, humor can be a double-edged sword and it can make or break the perception on your course. This is why you must take the time to know your audience before you even start designing a training course for adults with bits of humor in it. Read on.

3. Treat all adult learners the same

True, adult learners are different from children in terms of learning. They are mature, experienced, self-confident in their decision making, have high expectations of others, and are generally more sophisticated.

Besides having different learning preferences, they have various backgrounds in terms of cultural heritage, financial statuses, education, age, and so on. As an instructional designer, you need to address all these diverse aspects in order to get to know your learners and tailor your course for the best results.

Start with the obvious connector: they work for the same company and that company needs all of them to know subject XYZ.

Then, move along to more specific features. For example, you might have to prepare more in-depth answers of tech-related questions for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers than for the more tech-savvy Millennials, although this is not written in stone.

Read more: How to facilitate knowledge transfer between generations

Only constant communication with your learners will offer a bird's eye view of their needs and ways of addressing these needs through your e-learning materials. Read on.

4. Don’t offer diverse learning materials

People learn differently and most adult learners already know what method of learning works best for them. Some prefer videos over text, others are more into podcasts and audio files; some are able to parse tens of written paragraphs at a time, while others need charts and graphics to visualize the information.

Read more: The power of the spoken word: including podcasts in training

The best tactic here is to provide e-learning content in more than one form.

I’ll give a personal example on text versus video learning. I like TED Talks. However, I love TED Talks transcripts. The videos do convey the tone of voice, the body language and the emotions of the speaker, but they are all basically the same: someone on a stage, talking for 18 minutes (more or less). I can read the transcript in half that time and still absorb the same amount of information about the addressed topic.

TED Talks offer the same content in video format, in text, and in MP3 files, making it easier to digest both by my text-hungry learning style and by an audio or visual learner.

Read more: Top 7 TED Talks for L&D professionals [Infographic]

You get the point. All adults' learning styles must be considered in the making of business training materials. If they can control how they learn, they will be more engaged in the course activities.

5. Assume your time is more valuable than theirs

Don't get me wrong. We're all busy bees in our buzzing work environment. That's why we should respect other's availability.

Thinking everyone in an office can drop everything they are working on to attend a business training program or to make an assessment for one is not always a realistic idea. But with self-paced e-learning modules, this is not the case anymore. Of course, you should set rules and deadlines for assessments, but avoid micromanaging their time. Letting your adult learners control when to learn makes them more engaged because they like to be the masters of their own time.

Choosing the periods of time for e-learning also means choosing the devices to access the course. Whether these are desktop computers, laptops, tablets, or smartphones, the user experience must be the best. An intuitive user interface with responsive design saves a lot of time, for both you and your learners.

Read more: Why every LMS should have a responsive design

To sum up

A great online training program should provide a meaningful experience for all adult learners, no matter their age, culture, or professional background. Don't be afraid to use humor in your e-learning modules, offer diverse learning materials, show value for your learners' time, and most of all, be clear on the benefits of your training.

This will help you as an instructor to better connect with your adult audience and create a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

Have something to add to this list? The comments section is all yours :)