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Successful teaching and comprehension strategies for adult learners

Adult learners are taking the world by storm. Today, there are 6.6 million adult college students. But it’s not all about higher education. Learning is an ongoing process that lasts a whole lifetime – teaching too.

Whether it’s instructing an up training class for coworkers, taking people through team-building exercises, or leading an independent workshop, it’s valuable to understand how to most easily reach adult learners.

Here are a few of the learning strategies that can help adults in any classroom or learning environment.

Make it relevant

Adult learners will be motivated to learn if they feel the training/class is relevant to their lives. In order to accomplish that, you must first help them understand why they need the information you’re presenting.

Explain exactly how the material is useful to them on the job or in their everyday lives. Many employees already have workforce experience and need tactics of how to relate learning to the scenarios they have already endured. Share defined and clear goals, objectives, and an agenda for the training they’re a part of.

To help them hone in on exactly how the information is relevant to them, make sure to answer the following questions:

  • Why do they need this information?
  • What will they get from it?
  • How will they benefit from it?
  • How can they use it in a real and practical way on the job?
  • How will it make them better as a professional or worker?

Explaining the real-world outcomes of what they’re learning helps to inspire adults to put effort into the training or class and engages them more in it. Even the teaching methods can be relevant to their future or previous experiences such as group projects mirroring working with a team of co-workers, or a future in leadership where they must learn to successfully communicate with and engage employees.

Help them learn their own way

Anyone in a teaching role should know that people learn differently; some rely heavily on visual cues or written words to better recall information, others must physically do something in order to better understand it, while others need to listen carefully and actively participate in discussions.

Most people though need a mix of tactics in order to gain new knowledge successfully. That’s why it’s best to enhance the learning experience for everyone by making presentations multisensory, designing simulations, role-playing scenarios and discussions, illustrations, adding interactive, auditory, and visual components, including stories, real-life examples, case studies, and so on.

Read more: 4 Brilliant ways to incorporate storytelling in e-learning

No matter the age of a person, learning can be more fun and engaging with educational activities or games. They’re entertaining and help develop skills that simply can’t be taught through worksheets or out of books. And let’s face it, games are always a big hit no matter what is being taught, so it’s worth it to figure out a few you can use in the virtual training classroom.

Read more: Gamification – a cross-generational affair

Encourage learners through respect

For adult learners, feeling respected is paramount to their learning experience. Don’t dismiss their current knowledge and make sure to respect the experience of everyone in the room. If people feel as if they’re being patronized, ignored, or talked down to, their attention and energy will be diverted from learning to dealing with how they feel.

Foster a productive, comfortable climate in the training classroom by:

  • Being sensitive to the language used as not to offend someone inadvertently.
  • Adopting a caring attitude toward learners and showing it.
  • Showing respect for a person’s experience and individuality.
  • Being open to different perspectives.

You can monitor the climate in the learning environment and encourage learning through the use of probing questions. These probing questions invite people to participate and reflect on the things they’re learning.

Examples of probing questions include:

  • Fact-finding questions: These questions target data such as what, who, where, how much, and when. You use them to gather information.
  • Feeling-finding questions: These questions are used to gather subjective information that helps learners convey their opinions, feelings, beliefs, and values. They help you to understand how they think or feel.
  • “Tell me more” questions: These questions help you find out more about what learners are trying to say by encouraging them to go into greater depth and more detail with their answers.
  • Magic wand questions: These questions help you explore the learner’s true desires. They’re designed to help participants brainstorm and help to remove obstacles from a learner's mind. If they had a million dollars, what would they do?

It’s an unfortunate fact that many learning environments squash creativity. Use the tools at your disposal to help people be more creative in the training classroom and watch engagement and learning soar. If you can create genuine human connections with the people you’re teaching, then everyone wins.

Read more: Connectivity is not connection: How to boost engagement in virtual training classrooms

Get into experiential learning

Experiential learning for adults means two things:

  • Honoring the knowledge and life experiences the person brings to the table
  • Encouraging active participation in activities during the lesson

The first aspect taps into the wisdom and experience of the people in the classroom. Ask learners to share stories as you use problem-solving exercises and case studies to reinforce the information you’re presenting.

Remember, events in life change you – for better or for worse. Make your learner’s classroom experience for the better.

The second aspect of experiential learning involves engaging learners. Any activity you can use to get them involved fits the experimental learning criteria. This could involve small group discussions, role-playing, building something, drawing, and skits – the possibilities are endless. These types of activities energize people, which helps adult learners to retain more as they actively learn.

Read more: The secret sauce for efficient training: experiential learning

Learning lasts a lifetime

There is no age limit on learning. With one in four children in America never learning how to read, it’s clear that some adult learners face challenges you may have never dreamed of. That’s why when faced with the task of teaching adults, you start by bringing their experiences and reality to the table. From there, everyone can start on a level playing field, and learning — no matter the challenges — can be fun and thoughtful for everyone involved.