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How to Weave Adult Learning Principles in eLearning to Boost Performance

Learn continually – there is always ‘one more thing’ to learn!” says Steve Jobs. And we, as training managers, say “Amen!”. All of us have been learning since childhood, and yet, there is still so much more to learn. Of course, there has been a difference in our approach to learning. The way we used to learn when we were kids and the way we learn now as adults are totally different. That includes our motivations and reasons for learning. And that is what this blog is all about – the intricacies of adult learning.

How Different is Teaching Adults from Teaching Children?

‘Pedagogy’ is the science and art of teaching children, whereas ‘Andragogy’ is the science and art of facilitating adult learning. Teaching children is very different from teaching adults. Children are immensely curious about any and everything. They learn for the joy of learning. And according to John Locke’s theory of ‘tabula rasa’ (meaning a clean slate), a child’s mind is like a blank slate, a white paper. It is easy to make children learn new things as they don’t have prejudices or preconceived ideas. They also need to be hand-held or guided through their learning.

On the other hand, adults have unique personalities and perspectives based on their knowledge and experience. They also have a deep need to understand the usefulness of the new learning and prefer to take control of their own learning.

5 Adult Learning Principles for Effective Online Training

The 5 principles of adult learning proposed by American adult educator, Malcolm Knowles, lay the foundation for effective online corporate training.

Let us understand what they are and how you can use them in your online training.

Principle 1: Adults have a ‘need to know’ why they should learn something

You receive an e-mail from your L&D department on a Monday morning that you are enrolled for a new training program. What is the first thing you do? Look for the ‘What’s in it for me’, right? That’s because we as adults have a need to know why we should learn something and how it is going to make a difference in our lives.

Explore 32 eHacks to Jumpstart eLearning in Your Organization.

When it comes to corporate training, your employees would want to know the utility and relevance of the training program with respect to their jobs. So, while designing an eLearning course, it is essential to address the ‘Why’ factor. This answers their ‘What’s in it for me?’ question and motivates learning.

The best way to go about it is through well-defined, performance-based learning objectives that inform learners what they will be able to do after they finish the course. Also, ensure that your learning objectives are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

You can be creative while stating the learning objectives – pose interesting and thought-provoking icebreaker or rhetoric questions to pique learners’ curiosity.

Principle 2: Adults have a deep need to be self-directing

Teaching children is all about encouraging them to explore new things. You need to handhold them through the entire process to ensure learning. On the contrary, adult learners learn better when they are in charge of their own learning, when the learning is self-directed and self-paced.

So, while designing your corporate e-learning courses, try not to tie down learners with restrictions. Go for a learner-friendly intuitive GUI (Graphic User Interface), offer them free navigation through the course, and allow them to skip content if they wish to do so. Also, ensure your courses are multi-device, multi-browser compatible and host them on your LMS (Learning Management System) to ensure anytime, anywhere access.

Principle 3: Adults have a lot of previous knowledge and experience that can form the base for new learning

Adults are not ‘blank slates’ – they already have a lot of knowledge, values, and perspectives about many things. They build new learning on their existing knowledge and so, it is extremely important to connect the current information to their prior knowledge.

You can use pretests to assess learners’ existing knowledge on the topic. Give them the freedom to skip a module or a topic that they are knowledgeable about, while taking up units or modules they are interested in learning for a better learning experience.

Principle 4: Adults learn better if they believe the new learning is going to help them PERFORM their jobs better or SOLVE a problem

The need to solve problems is a major factor that drives adult learners. They look for relevance in their learning rather than taking up any random course. They are keenly interested to learn something that can help them solve their day-to-day work issues and make their lives easier.

So, design courses that’ll help them solve their real-life tasks/problems or improve skills. Also, focus on experiential learning to boost performance. The best way to do that is through case studies, simulations, and branching scenarios.

Principle 5: Adults are motivated to learn by both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators

All of us love to be appreciated and acknowledged. And that includes your adult learners.

Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators can be used to motivate your learners to enroll for the training. Certificates, pay hikes, rewards, recognition, and promotions are some of the extrinsic motivators for adult learners. Adults also learn better if they feel the learning is going to boost their self-esteem (intrinsic motivator) and help them in their career growth.

You can use gamification elements like reward points, leaderboards, scores, and levels in your e-learning courses to motivate learners, enhance learner engagement, and foster learning. 

The Bottom Line

Designing eLearning courses based on the adult learning principles can be really instrumental in enhancing learning and boosting employee performance. Now that you are aware of the nuances of andragogy, are you ready to implement them in your training program? To gain more insights on how to start eLearning in your organization, refer to this eBook. Download it now!

The eLearning Champion’s Guide to Master Design, Delivery, and Evaluation