Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

Training fads usually survive on little more than their followers' enthusiasm and myths about our brains.

But there is plenty of hard evidence about effective ways for adults to learn. That evidence from thorough research is 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, especially in front of their colleagues. They may 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.

Feedback that promotes learning

Effective feedback is more than telling them where they went wrong, or just being nice.

You can model your feedback on what high achievers tell themselves.

A review of 100 studies has shown that those high achievers think in the same way when they encounter a setback. They'll assume that the setback is 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.

What about when they do well?

Conversely, we must help learners internalise success. Say, 'You're going well", or "You're showing your potential - stay focused'. Make it real.

'Is it useful?'

Generally, adults want to be convinced the new skill will be useful. 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.

Older learners -'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.

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.

Active 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 that's neither practical nor necessary.

Training based on catering to different learning styles was just a fad.