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Section 1: Training

Principles of adult learning

Principles of adult learning

Some people think that 'learning' can only happen in a classroom. But that's not true. Whenever you modify the way you do something, or change the way you think about something, you do so as the result of learning.

If learning occurs in a structured setting, such as a training course, it's called formal learning. If it occurs through your normal interactions with workmates, friends or from life experiences, it's called informal learning.

Learning can change your understanding of a subject through increased knowledge. It can change the way you do an activity through improved skills. And it can change your feelings through a shift in attitude.

Adult learning

Adults don't learn in the same ways that children do. When children go to school, their teachers adopt a parent-like role, telling them what to do and how to do it. But when adults attend a training course, they bring their prior experiences with them, along with their own ways of doing things.

For these reasons, they like to take responsibility for making their own decisions, and they need to know how the things they're being taught are relevant to their jobs and their lives.

There are some general principles of adult learning that have been developed by professional trainers over a long period of time. If you apply these principles to your own work, you'll be able to keep your training delivery informative, effective and entertaining at the same time.

General principles

  • Adults like to actively participate in the process of learning - they learn best by 'doing'.

  • Learning is more effective when it is meaningful to the adult's life, and they can relate it to their existing knowledge and experiences.

  • It makes more sense to a learner when you start with the big picture or the entire job, and then break it down into its component parts.

  • Learning is more effective when it is multi-sensory - that is, when it uses several senses at once, such as listening, observing and touching.

  • Practice makes perfect - learners need plenty of time for practice.

  • Feedback is important to a learner throughout a training session, so they know how they are getting on.

  • Everyone likes to get a reward for a job well done, especially when they have just mastered a new skill or picked up a difficult concept.