Did you know some theories suggest traditional learning systems were influenced by experimental psychologists? It’s true! They assert many of the very same approaches used to train dogs and animals are actually used to teach children too. It’s all rooted in an external rewards-based system. You know what I mean, a mouse goes through a maze and grabs the cheese (i.e.external reward). Or, similarly, it’s like Pavlov’s dog experiment to reinforce behavior that is rewarded will continue. Albeit true, I’m going to discuss and challenge you to thinking about the “reward” concept as you’re leading training or facilitating workshops. That’s the beginning of What makes a good training. I’ll also give you tips to help you define and amplify the actual reward for your adult learners in workplace training or other adult-learning situations.
What makes a good training is a skilled facilitator who knows how to motivate adults to learn, create a safe environment, and knows how to balance facilitating the process with information-delivery.
Think about “Old” School …
For a person in the traditional educational system, their reward is what? You got it! It’s a good grade. My problem is this same approach has found its way into adult learning systems and it clearly does not work well outside a college classroom. In fact, it’s incredibly problematic for facilitators leading training. We have to find another way(s) to motivate our learners.
What I mean by a “facilitator of learning” is a person who trains adults either in workplace settings, community settings and even in faith-based ones as well.
You see, as a training facilitator or facilitator of learning, I have no grade to give. Still, I need motivated, inspired learners to work with.
Hey, I work long and hard on my content and I create it for adults who value knowledge and will be rewarded by the consumption of it. The reality of it is, however, most people who come to training classes are doing so because the “upper brass” is forcing them there. In other words, they have no choice and that makes my job a bit harder. What is their reward? Huh? What is it?
Their reward must be the learning experience and meaningful, useful content itself. In other words, I have to transform workplace “prisoners” into happy ready-to-learn workplace prisoners. *sigh*
Leading training can be a racket and some facilitators are racketeers!
I hate to turn on my people, but some trainers could care less about all this rigamarole! I’ve giggled with trainers who were like “I’m getting my check, so I’m going. It’s up to them to learn or not.”
Boooo! That’s the wrong attitude, I think. Maybe this is why I have literally turned down potential clients because I didn’t believe I could meet their expectations either because it’s too lofty or because I’m just not the person for the job. Do you know what I mean?
Don’t worry, I don’t have an inferiority complex or anything. Far from it. What I do have is integrity.
If you’re reading this and you’ve asked me to facilitate diversity training, you can verify I’m telling the truth. Several of my buddies were like “Girl, you should have just gone in and done something.” In other words, do whatever just to get the check. I disagree.
Clients can be confident if I accept your offer to train, I’m going to ROCK it! Plain and simple.
While I’m at it let me set a bit of context for this post. My work is leaning more and more toward online learning and I’m loving it. Soon, I’ll host a short class on my best practices of online learning. Be sure to subscribe so you’ll know when!
With that in mind, consider, for the most part, adults need the same things in online training sessions as they do offline. They need experiences designed to reward them in meaningful ways and good, solid, stirring content.
Let’s talk about E-learning…that’s the ticket for facilitators of learning!
My job, when I’m leading training is to deliver learning experiences that make learning easy for my adult learners. As you can likely tell, I don’t take that job lightly.
Once more, these days most of my training sessions are online, and with that, I am doggedly committed to providing learning experiences that engage my participants- not bore them.
My training in the classroom is similar. For the most part, I eschew the practices of traditional education and create workshops to convert my resistant learners into allies or “partners in the process.”
How to create trainings or workshops...the right way. First, understand this:
Adult-learning, in the context of training, is vastly different from traditional education in, practice, and process. Training facilitators must stop carrying traditional learning practices in to workplace training. They are not transferable.
Why I absolutely hate most trainings/workshops…
I hate going to some trainings and workshops because facilitators try to fit the square peg of facilitation into the round hole of education. It simply doesn’t work. They need to read this blog post!
What happens is they make mistakes that inhibit my learning rather than foster it.
Here are some of the mistakes I’ve found folks make training online or in-person:
- Text-heavy PowerPoints or visual aids
- Droning on and on without periods of “pause” or interaction
- No handouts
- Not helping learners connect mentally and emotionally to the content.
- Reading from the script
- Unskilled with the technology (in the case of online learning)
By know you clearly know adult-learning is radically different from spitting out information and giving grades. It’s engaging and to engage your adult learners, you need to consider the following as you plan your session:
PowerPoint (or some sort of visual) should guide the learning – compliment it – not drive it.
Novice trainers often put tons of text on the slides and think it helps folks learn. It doesn’t…it distracts. Have you ever tried to read and listen at the same time? It’s hard. Don’t force your learners to do it. Instead, create PPTs that have very few words. Also, use pictures or images to communicate concepts – not tons of text. Shucks, some PPTs look more like a book than a visual aid. What are they thinking???
Stop all that talking, you trainer you. I always say (in an online learning session), if I can’t take a sip of water during my training, I’m talking entirely too much. And I‘m not referring to asking for “one moment” while I sip my water”, I’m talking about the rhythm of the session. Instead, I ask lots of questions, like:
- “What do you think about that?”
- “How can this be useful in real life?”
- “Who knows what I mean here?”
- “Can you see yourself utilizing this? Why or why not?”
- “How has this “shown up” in your life?”
Do you see what I’m doing? I’m inviting the learner into the process. I’m facilitating in a way that it’s beautifully collaborative.
Handouts offer a” hand” out to the learner. Ok, that’s corny. Get it? Offering a “hand out?” Anyhoo, for online training, handouts are more for after training than during.
Sometimes, I’ll create a worksheet for those kinesthetic learners that offer blanks in which they can fill in as they go along. The point is to give them a “take-a-way” or something to do during the training class.
Make a connection. As you draft your training, strive to create ways people can emotionally connect to the content? People can forget what you say, but will never forget how you make them feel.
I’ve been in the market or somewhere and often notice someone who looks familiar. I usually can’t remember their name (I’m terrible with names), but I often feel a “fondness” or gladness about those people who gave me a “good feeling”.
Be that person for your trainees. Feelings are important in life and in training.
If it’s something like my personality workshop, I always bring in family and relationship examples.
For instance, I’ll ask:
Have you ever met someone who analyzes just about EVERYTHING?
Or, “how do you feel when you want more information and just cannot get it?”
These are rough examples because I’m not giving away the cow. Attend one of my facilitator workshops for those sorts of tips. 🙂
For now, suffice it to say adults need a meaningful, emotional connection to the content in order to remember it.
Reading is a good hobby, but not what a training facilitator should ever do. With that, never read a script while training. If you need to read from a script, you shouldn’t be leading training or facilitating that subject.
Doing so takes away your power. It diminishes your authority. Rehearse, study and know your content inside and out before facilitating it.
Know how to do it! I don’t care whether you use GoToWebinar (a fav of mine), Zoom, or GoToTraining, be an expert on whichever technical platform you choose. Adult learners may be gracious to some degree, but for the most part, they will be peeved if you can’t figure out how to operate the software during an online training session.
Ok. We’ve discussed the clear differences between how educators teach and what adult learners need. I’ve also given you some practical tips for meeting some of the basic needs of your adult learners – whether online or offline.
This is a good time to take a reading break or pin this so you can remember it later. Come back and learn how facilitators of learning can forge a partnership with the participants.
Or if you’re a maverick, let’s keep going! Yahoo!!!!
What trainers must do while leading a training…
As a trainer, you have to adapt and make adult-learning “do what it do.”
(Sorry, slang is irresistible to me.)
To be an effective trainer, I’m sorry to tell you, but you need to unlearn some of the things you think are solid training practices. Why? Because those practices are largely rooted in an education schema, not in adult-learning theory. They won’t work.
Training is a learning vehicle for change. Whether it’s changing behavior, performance or even changing the way one thinks. It’s about helping people transform behaviors into desired actions/results. You never be able to facilitate change when the learners are resistant…or dare I say it…BORED!
“Learning for behaviorist is defined as changed observable behavior.”B. F. Skinner, 1971
During a training encounter, again, people crave the knowledge to be better and to do better. You can be the catalyst for making that happen!
Write that down and remember that concept as you design and facilitate your training, you also need to:
1) ensure your content meets this inherent need (i.e. helping them be better) and
2) explain or remind the adult learners how the content meets that need throughout the entire training process.
Let me state that in sentence form. Your job as a facilitator of learning is to create good stuff to help the learners be awesome and then you must tell them about it and how it will make them rock stars. Tell them overtly. Don’t trust them to connect the dots themselves.
Look, if there is one thing adults hate, it’s time-wasters.
Don’t be one.
Help them and tell them you’re helping them!
After you’ve written your training or workshop, go in an inject several places you “connect those dots” of importance and validity.
Example, you can say something like:
“This step helps you streamline processes so you’ll be able to produce reports faster. No more spending hours compiling data.”
“Knowing this helps you get along with your colleagues so you can get what you need when you need it – free of misunderstandings and unnecessary conflicts.”
“These techniques will be great relationship-building tools for getting to know the volunteers in your organization so they will stay longer.”
Exactly. Does this make sense? Tell me in the comments.
Don’t take it for granted your participants will connect these dots themselves. Tell them overtly how the content will help them and why. I’m intentionally repeating this because it’s so important.
If you explain the WIFM (or the “what’s in it for me”) elements of your training content, you’ll cultivate motivated learners.
Aye, here’s the beautiful magic of it all! Motivated learners are the type of adult learner who will meet you halfway and make good use of your research, hard work, experience, and investment. How? By learning it! That’s how.
Now you clearly see, training adults is not as simple as just pushing out information or asking people to jump through hoops. That works in an educational setting to some degree, but not in adult learning training or development settings.
The fact of the matter is you need them and they need you. It’s a synergy that most trainers overlook. Sad. They should subscribe to my blog and attend my online workshop called “Training the Trainer.” For sure!
Bringing a “plus one” to the learning party
Undoubtedly, participants are essential pieces of the learning puzzle. You’ve got them motivated, now you need them to ensure they remember the training content. You need their past memories, their feelings as well as their attention.
Hey, in the classrooms most of us grew up in, it was all about the teacher. All eyes on him or her. They couldn’t care less about what we did or whether we learned as long as we looked at them. Little did most of my teachers know, while I was looking at them, my mind was a million miles away because they were usually dull and holding me mentally hostage anyway. Remember, my reference to “workplace prisoners”? It’s the same thing.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou
Training adults is different from training children or college classrooms.
Contrary to what most of us went through as students, adult learning requires adults to bring something of themselves to the process. Which is perfect because they want to anyway! Besides the desire to learn and be valued, most folks love sharing what they’ve experienced and learned throughout life. They need this element of the experience in order to retain the information.
Go ahead, give them a chance to share what they already know about the content. Let them tell YOU how they can apply it now, how they may have applied it before, and the ways they see themselves utilizing it in the future.
Many trainers are so busy pushing out data, they forget this all-important fact!
Let your participants share, Trainer! It’s a terrific thing -for both you and them!
Veritably, this is the beauty of adult learning! As the learners begin sharing, it creates a comprehensive learning cycle in which each learner learns from other learners.
If you have ever attended any of my workshops, you’ve likely heard me say something like “help me train this” shortly before I asked for input from the learners.
While I am being comical to some degree, I’m really serious and putting this theory into practice.
To tell you the truth, down through the years, my learners have taught me so much – just by their comments. The best part: they have also learned tons from one another. Shucks, my ego is not so fragile that I need to be the only one teaching, talking, and sharing.
After all, you “ain’t” all that … neither am I!
The biggest mistake facilitators can make is assuming they know everything about the subject at hand. What a turn off.
Not only does it shut down the adult learners, but it creates passive resentment and a mildly toxic training environment.
When learners begin to resent you and question everything you say—all because your training techniques suck, that’s a toxic training environment. It kills creativity as well as trust.
No thank you. Who wants that?
How you treat the learner is absolutely EVERYTHING!
In training and workshops, choose to be a facilitator who leverages the participant’s sense of curiosity, safety, value, and respect.
As Maria Montessori said, we all are born with curiosity. We don’t lose that in childhood, but often, adult learning acts as though we have.
It tends to anesthetize the “child-like” wonder that still resides in most of us.
This is due to bad trainers pushing and shoving information out to the group with the assumption they are mature enough to learn it. It’s not about maturity, it’s about choice; it’s about adult learning theory and knowing how to leverage it.
Since your learners are somewhat curious the minute they walk through the door, don’t let your training delivery (or bad facilitation) get in the way or shut down their interest.
This very moment, you’re likely curious about what I think learners are presumably curious about, right? *Whew…that’s a tough sentence.*
Well, beyond the topic itself, they may wonder and ask themselves things like:
“How is this information going to help me do my job better? I’m doing a pretty good job at it already.”
“What does this joker know anyway?”
“Why did they choose to wear THAT to the training?”
“What are his/her credentials?”
“Are they even qualified to teach me?”
“What is their practical knowledge and experience about this topic?”
“Who is he/she as a person? I wonder if she’s married? I wonder if he works out?”
“I wonder who else is in the room…are they smarter than me?”
“Will she/he let us leave early?”
Have you ever wondered any of this during a training session? I know I have.
Additionally, if you’re meeting them outside of their normal, familiar office space, they may wonder about the venue. They could ponder “what is this building?” or “What sort of work happens here?”
Seriously. Your learners are coming in with a host of curiosities and I do mean that in the best sense of the word.
As a training facilitator, go ahead and preemptively answer a lot of these questions before the training even begins.
I am no Jimmy Kimmel myself, but I do have an opening monologue for all my adult learning sessions. I try to answer as many of the above questions as I can so we can get to the business of learning.
Foster a sense of safety for your adult learners.
To be effective, remove all the “stuff” that can become a barrier to learning.
For one thing, safety is an important part of your adult learning protocol. I don’t necessarily mean physically safe, but that does play a role too.
Let me give you a weird example.
Years ago, I had to do a teambuilding workshop in a really rough part of town.
In the pre-meeting chatter, I overheard several volunteers express their discomfort about being in that area. One person even said, “I hope we’re done before dark.”
Actually, I didn’t see what all the hoopla was about, but it’s not about me – it’s about the learners, right?
In such situations, you’re the trainer and even if you don’t think their concerns are reasonable, you have to validate them nonetheless. Why? So you can get to the business of learning (have I said that enough yet?) 🙂
Here’s what I did…
Recognizing no one was going to learn in that stressed state of being, I opted to have a brief conversation about their worries.
My ultimate goal was to let them just get it all out. Under those types of circumstances, venting helps.
In that situation, it even bonded us in some way. During the conversation, I intentionally moved to stand with the group and no longer in front of the room. It gave a sense of “us” instead of them. Little things like that matter.
During the conversation, I coached the group to come up with a few protocols to make them feel better…like taking breaks inside or using the buddy system meaning they would leave the session in pairs or groups. That’s a great example of physical safety and how it can play a role in the learning process. Who woulda thunk it, right?
Emotional safety is just as important, in my opinion.
If people know and believe the environment is emotionally safe, they will be more likely to take risks, share their opinions, and fully engage in the learning process.
At the beginning of my trainings, I like to say something like “this is a judgment-free zone” meaning we will not disrespect or judge one another.
After that, I BOLDLY declare no question is a dumb question and it’s ok to talk through concepts out loud. This works really well for the audio learners in the room.
Further, I reiterate the environment is a 360-degree learning environment meaning we’re going to learn from one another… even if we disagree.
Try it. When you’re leading training, you set the tone. Yes, you are the captain of your learning ship.
As you know, when people feel safe they are their most creative and go on to have a blast learning and sharing too!
What about the talkative folks? How do I manage them?
Hey, if you are worried about those folks who will talk too much, simply brush up on your group management techniques.
A good facilitator knows how to manage a group respectfully and professionally. This includes knowing how to manage the communication flow without insulting people.
Situations like this are why everyone is not a “trainer”. Folks think it’s much simpler than it is and that’s exactly why we have so many bad training experiences. Training is a skill as is fusing it with facilitation.
Here are some of the things I say to keep my training moving:
“You are making such a good point, but I’m going to gently cut you off right there just so we can make good use of time and keep the training moving forward.”
“I see all of the hands. You guys are voracious learners and I LOVE IT! But I don’t want to keep you all day/night, so we’re going to just put a pin in this discussion right now to keep things moving.”
You know, I never get “push back” on these because, again, adults hate time wasters. As much as they enjoy a good training, be clear about one thing: they want to leave and go home. *haha*
Now is another good time for a break.
Bookmark and finish reading later. I won’t be offended. If you’re an adult learning theory fanatic like me, keep on going!
Can you see what an alliance adult learning is?
Once again, education is formal and is unrelenting.
It’s the process of doing something to a learner. In review, in school, you were a recipient of the information presented and your relationship to that information did not matter much beyond jumping through the “hoop” of attaining a good grade.
No one cared how you felt about English or Math – you just did it and you did it for the external reward (the grade).
Unless you had a good teacher, your curiosity wasn’t leveraged. No one pleasantly “teased” you with data nor took you on any kind of journey with it.
The teacher pushed it out, and if you knew what was good for you, you learned it. Simple as that.
Effectively training adults is light-years from that mode of instruction.
Weight-loss and Adult-learning
I have a specific example of a good online adult learning process and it comes from the most unlikely of places a WEIGHT-LOSS PLATFORM!
Yeah, I said weight-loss.
You know, I think people fail at losing weight because most companies no little about adult learning.
For instance, many weight-loss companies share data, information, articles, and such to “educate” their clients (like the traditional educational system). This means as you read the articles, you learn something and go “Hmmmm… that’s interesting.” But, not long after, you’re on a hot date with a bag of Lays potato chips!
You received the information. But, what happened?
It’s still jumping through a hoop! That’s what happened!
Even though the big companies ask you about your “why” and all that jazz, it’s really about the “hoops” you have to jump through. It’s about the points, the calories, or the carb limits.
That’s why it doesn’t last for most folks. Everyone gets sick of “hoops” eventually. Those companies miss one thing – one super important part – motivation.
Life change occurs when you become intrinsically motivated to change.
Often, this happens as a result of seeing the scale go down, little by little, or receiving positive reinforcement from others or even from looking at yourself in a mirror and loving what you see reflected.
Each of these sort of “stroke” your interest to change. Yes, they are rewards, but a different kind of reward. These rewards drive behavior. In most training settings, that’s really what we’re after – behavioral change.
That’s what keeps the weight off – changing your thinking, behavior, and habits.
I think that’s why companies like Noom are going to be the wave of the future. In case you don’t know, Noom is a weight-loss company that focuses on behavior management. They really get in your head.
This has helped me a great deal. Helping me change the way I behaved by changing the way I think. Just so you know, I’ve already lost 5 lbs on this program and feeling very optimistic about the future. Why? because I see myself transforming mentally as well as physically. Read more about that journey on my other blog here.
More evidence of their utter brilliance is the “tease.” They have mastered the art of it!
For instance, in Noom, they give you virtual, self-paced classes to do every day. Yes, every single day!
Each class, little by little, challenges the way you think about life and food.
It’s seriously like a therapy session without the annoying questions or copays. What they are doing is “training” you!
I tell ya, Noom has helped me identify self-sabotaging behaviors in relationships, in how I approach work, and more!
The funny thing is those same things trip me up with my approach to food too. In other words, it’s helping me be a better version of myself. The app reminds you of that often. That’s what your training should do!
As you’re leading training, tell your learners they are going to do better and be better after the training – go on to explain how.
Back to the “tease” …
Noom limits how many classes you can take at a time. I like that because it’s about learning and not about pushing information out to the learners.
Did you notice I did the very same thing up top? I offered you a mental break. Remember? The blue and red boxes? Got it from Noom! 🙂
Anyhoosie, after you’ve taken your modules, you get a message that says something like “you’ve done enough for today”.
What does this do? It teases!
It piques excitement and curiosity. It totally capitalizes on your desire to know more! It’s like a cognitive “peek a boo.”
Out of genuine frustration, I must ask why doesn’t this happen in traditional learning settings? Can you tell me that? *Geesh*
Instead, it’s all about pushing the information out to the learner.
It’s about doing something to the learning (i.e. “educating” them) instead of viewing them as comrades.
The learners subsequently jump through those hoops and forget what they learned within a few weeks…if not sooner!
I’d better clear something up…QUICKLY!
Please know I believe educators are one of the most valuable people in the world. They are responsible for preparing, equipping, and teaching the people who will one day run our country and our world. In NO WAY am I judging them or putting them down. I thank God for teachers!
Please don’t misunderstand my comparisons as being pejorative. I’m not. I do believe the modern-day education systems are adapting, changing, and evolving in some fantastic ways. Many now incorporate small group and community learning into their processes. Cool, right?
While all this may be true, I still shudder at how much this educational learning system has found it’s way in workshops, adult learning, and development.
Training has become a transactional relationship in which learners get data, but likely don’t retain it. What a waste of effort for the trainers and those who hired them! What makes a good training is figuring out how to help people learn!
Don’t cheat your learners.
They must learn and retain!
When I’m leading training, this is where my gold lives!
My entire career rests on my client’s ability to learn. If they don’t learn, I am unsuccessful and that will affect my reputation.
Besides, there is something about learning that speaks to my passion.
It speaks to my life purpose. It’s what I do. Whether I’m hanging out with friends or talking with family, I’m sharing some theory, philosophy, or reason “why.” It’s always been that way.
“Training is not what you do, it’s who you are. “
Teri Brooks said it! Me! Yup.
Back to training…and wrapping it up.
As trainers and facilitators, we have to know what happens when adults learn. Certainly, it’s different from how children do it.
We must adapt and shift from methods used in schools and adapt a more adult-learning perspective. After all, unless you bring chocolate to the training, what other “reward” do you have?
Like me, you’re giving out no grades. So, engage your people and watch those glowing post-training evaluations roll in!
What do you think about all this? When you’re leading training do you do any of this already?
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” –Pele