A great deal of time and care is put into developing the most valuable and effective content for soft-skills training. There are, however, environmental factors that need to be addressed when facilitating adult learning.
The physical setting for children’s learning is pretty specific. Seats in a discreet array, facing a blackboard with a teacher in front of it, quiet and still, constantly watched. Transmission of information is controlled solely by the teacher, and the children assume a passive role – facing negative consequences should they not.
When an adult enters an environment that is modeled after childhood learning, they tend to assume that same role – remembering the negative consequences of not behaving passively. This passive role implies that learners are receiving value – that they begin “without” and are filled with what they “lack” by an external source. But, even in childhood, this is almost never truly the case. All learners have experiences and existing qualities that they draw from and apply to new knowledge and situations. They have the ability to teach themselves.
By realizing that they are not blank slates – that they are only re-assessing and developing positive qualities they already possess – adults become much more invested in the outcomes of their learning experiences. They will invest to the extent that they perceive potential value.
If a learning experience is made specific – different from other experiences, cared for, and paid for with time and planning – there is a greater likelihood of perceived value and participation. Adult learners need to feel that they, as individuals, are instrumental to the learning process – that part of the experience is contributed by them.
That’s why trainers are so often referred to as facilitators, rather than teachers. Trainers provide the opportunity for learning. They observe behaviors to find the right time for development, and create an environment that is appropriate for learning. And, if it can be avoided, that environment shouldn’t be “school.”
It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes wearing a silly hat and sitting beside a stuffed monkey can make you feel more like an adult. Room dressing and the creation of an experience is about freedom. Freedom to remove oneself from a prescriptive environment. Freedom from the narrow focus of linear daily tasks. Freedom to take responsibility for one’s own development. Freedom to choose to be better.
The HRDQ Experiential Learning Model is the guiding force behind every employee training and development resource we publish. Although learning is a cycle, it’s important to provide memorable experiences to punctuate the process. These experiences need to be positive and safe – they need to relate directly to personal achievement even though they stand apart from day-to-day activities.
So, when you’re planning your next training session, remember to make it memorable. Create an environment for learning – both physical and intellectual – that encourages your participants to take ownership of their development, and sets in motion a cycle of continuous experiential learning.