Training has almost as many fads as a Paris fashion show and they often survive on little more than their followers' enthusiasm.
But there is plenty of hard evidence about the most effective ways for adults to learn. It's objective evidence from thorough research and useful for anyone who teaches, coaches or mentors adults.
Take the importance of self-esteem. You might expect adults to be a bit more resilient than children, but the research shows that when adults are learning their self-esteem is on the line. They tend to take errors personally and persuade themselves that they can't learn.
Effective trainers can be very direct and specific in their feedback, but they preserve self-esteem. They encourage their trainees to see failures as simply steps along the way. They just assume that the trainee has the ability to succeed.
It's more than just being nice to people
A review of 100 studies has shown that high achievers make the same assumption about their ability. When they fail it's because of something they need to do or learn. It has nothing to do with their potential. They are 'externalising' failure. (Because it is 'outside' their potential.) They might tell themselves, "I'll have to get more practice on the machine", or "That client was in a grumpy mood, they're not all like that".
As trainers, coaches and mentors we should be encouraging learners to externalise failure and see at is temporary - so it's better to call it a setback.
Conversely, we must help learners internalise success. Say, "You're good (or going to be good) at this", or "Your experience with widgets is showing", but make it real.
'Is it useful?'
Generally, adults want to be convinced they can use the new skill. They are much less likely than younger people to learn for the sake of learning. Keep showing them how useful it's going to be. Better still, get them to tell you.
'Do you knit?'
Your older employees will prefer to extend what they know, rather than make major leaps to new ideas. Their learning is no less efficient, just different.
Older learners can be anxious about learning very new ideas, especially in technology, but they have a major advantage over younger learners - their experience.
One of our team knows a mature woman who was anxious about learning to use a computer and the trainer asked, "Do you knit?"
"Yes, I've knitted for years."
"Oh good", said the trainer, "experienced knitters learn computing easily. It's like following a pattern." It worked a treat.
That comment was about reducing anxiety, but we can encourage older learners to draw on their knowledge too. Encourage them to see the connections between what they know and what they are learning.
Perhaps most important of all: adults learn by doing. The research confirms beyond doubt that sitting and listening is the least efficient way to learn.
Encourage your staff to try out new ideas, think through how they worked in practice and try again. Give them specific, supportive, feedback.
Supportive feedback? Not telling them they're right when they're not, but leaving intact their hope that they will succeed in the end.
Not every learning style
Long-term learning comes when the brain is involved in 'deep processing'. Using a variety of teaching methods helps the processing, but don't be persuaded that you have to cater for every learning style in every topic. Even the pioneer of multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner of Harvard) says it's neither practical nor necessary.