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The 5 Most Effective Tools for Teaching Adults in the Workplace

There are many unique challenges to working with adult learners in a corporate setting. All forms of learning can pose a different set of challenges for those who design the instruction. The Association for Talent Development suggests that adult education can be categorized into three main approaches to instruction: tapping into prior experience, revealing perspectives to create aha moments and tying reality to create meaning.

An advanced education degree with a focus in adult education can give educators the necessary tools to help adult learners excel. Instructors can go about achieving the Association for Talent Development’s three approaches by utilizing the following methods:

1. Designing Curriculum to Meet Specific Metrics

There are two major concerns when teaching adults in the workplace, as it relates to the goals of the corporation offering the instruction. First, executive leadership must invest in and equally promote the program. Doing so would stress the imperativeness of the curriculum and help boost morale or motivation.

From leadership’s point of view, all skill sets that are improved upon or earned during the program should concurrently improve the likelihood of increasingly productive workplace outcomes. BizLibrary argues that those who lead the organization or corporation will require that the training program impact the bottom line, so be prepared to talk about this when you present your ideas.

2. Content Mastery Vs. Experiential Learning

Teaching adults in the workplace assumes that there is already prior knowledge of the success criteria and an incentive for employees to earn accolades and/or promotions due to their application of those new skills. Edutopia presents the idea of ‘dials’ as it relates to engagement. An instructor can turn up the experiential dial by adjusting it to optimize demand. Taking this step will engage nontraditional students so deeply and productively as to keep them from being underwhelmed.

Students in primary and secondary schools are assessed on tasks aligned with the subject matter learned, as opposed to the way in which they learned it. Adult learners in the workplace are more interested in the experiential model of learning because they have already proven content mastery in their firm.

3. Andragogy, Not Pedagogy

Instructional design is foundational when working with adult learners, which is why a platform like eLearning Industry relies on the research of Malcolm Knowles who refined the craft of andragogy. Taking into consideration an adult’s needs to gain immediate, sometimes monetary, outcomes from their workplace education will prove more effective than a longitudinal, increasingly rigorous course of learning as seen in traditional public education for children.

According to The Blueprint, adult learners are more internally motivated than children, and this is the reason for the difference in teaching philosophies. Andragogy supports an environment that allows adult learners to see immediate results, providing the key to positive feedback from employees.

4. Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Adult Learners

When teaching adults, there is a tendency to forget that they, too, have varied learning styles that deserve the same type of mitigation as in traditional classrooms. Ideally, each course and instructional objective should include elements of all three major learning styles — visual, auditory and kinesthetic or tactile. A well-designed curriculum uses the triumvirate simultaneously so that students learning the concepts can self-identify and apply the learning style that fits them best.

There are some instances in which learners can be visual for some subjects of study and auditory for others. BusyTeacher enforces the idea that adult learners are no different and should be exposed, regardless of subject matter, to all learning styles to achieve the same goal.

5. Relevancy

Whereas pedagogy usually benefits from parental reinforcement of student success, adult learners are wholly and independently responsible for their own self-interest, motivation and professional growth. If the incentive to learn is already an expected and accomplished norm in adult learning, the instructor(s) must turn to relevancy to ensure further engagement.

General Assembly supports this component of adult education by suggesting that when an adult learner opens the floor with a concern or comment within the scope of the topic on your agenda, it is most effective to stop and discuss that concern at that moment. Perhaps this is most important due to the need to acknowledge that adult learners already know why they are there to learn. They must feel that their investment of workplace time will provide returns that help them achieve their quota, get the better office, move into the executive suite or simply get a raise. In other words, the goals of corporate education must resonate with the reality of the day. This is not a prerequisite in traditional school-age classrooms.

How to Develop Adult Learners encourages corporations to offer transformative training programs by utilizing a few simple tips that can encompass all the methods suggested above. It is vital to ‘develop’ adult learners into better employees over time, as opposed to ‘teaching’ adult learners for one moment, similar to an assessment in secondary school.

Just as important is to make the whole training a dialogue, not a monologue, so that adults know they are part of the development process instead of the subject of someone else’s job requirement.

Finally, and most applicable, is the idea of a Socratic training. The same way that secondary teachers work to engage their students by asking questions and debating, adults need to feel like they are part of the process, not data in the process.

Learn more about Southern Oregon University’s online Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Adult Education program.

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