“All men by nature desire to know”

In any typical classroom, it is expected that there will be varying personalities. This especially holds true when there are more mature learners involved. The common characters encountered in such learning environments include the Argumentative Fighter, the ‘Know-it-all’, the Complainer, and the Quiet One.

Adult learners today face multiple challenges. There may be unrelenting competition at the workplace, while the home environment can be stressful enough with family responsibilities taking priority. This unfortunately leaves little time for learning or training. It is difficult to invest much time in learning while juggling different responsibilities both at work and at home. Despite these setbacks, adults are generally motivated to seek out learning experiences which are relevant to their work or personal lives.

Essentially, adult learners want to acquire demonstrable knowledge and skills to enhance competencies in their areas of work or specialisation.

Realising the value of training

The term ‘Human Resources’ implies that employers invest in the growth and development of their employees. In-house training and on-the-job learning have become more than a catchphrase, with employers rushing to implement the latest technologies and learning management systems to cater to their employees’ learning needs. However, attending a training session does not necessarily translate into effective learning on the part of the employee. This is especially so in the Financial Services Industry (FSI) where the job market is becoming increasingly competitive, and attention spans are getting shorter. Many FSI employees do not see the value of investing their time in a programme that may not necessarily help them.

Adult learners demand relevant and applicable knowledge and skills as an outcome of the training they attend. In other words, if they are unable to apply what they have learned in the classroom to their workplace, interest in the training will quickly wane. According to Andy Molinsky, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Brandeis University's International Business School, one of the reasons why the general sentiment towards classroom training has received mixed reviews is because the training is often structured or run poorly. This relates to a lack of real world applications, in which employees are able to experiment with different outcomes of a situation within the safe confines of the classroom. “People don’t necessarily have the same level of patience or forgiveness as they do in a training environment. The stakes are also typically higher. In a training setting it’s about learning, whereas in most performance settings, it’s about delivering results,” he wrote.

Whether we like it or not, people are emotional creatures. And one of the ways to inject a sense of reality into training examples, writes Molinsky, is to provide a realistic preview of the emotional dynamics of actual situations. For instance, in the case of redundancies at the workplace, training can involve providing managers with the likely emotional reactions of those affected to add an additional layer of complexity to the handling of the dynamics of an actual situation.

Another method is to incorporate role-play and simulations, to offer the employees an opportunity to step beyond their comfort zones and learn to perform under pressure. In other words, the more practical and realistic a training module is, the more likely adult learners will see the value behind it.

Engaging your audience

The saying ‘First impressions are the most lasting’ is especially true and developing a ‘hook’ to attract and retain the attention of learners is important. To accomplish this, there are a suite of powerful openers which facilitators can use. Seasoned facilitators tend to favour an anecdote or a short captivating account of their experiences. Humour, a key element in effective communication, may also be adopted in the introduction.

However, facilitators should avoid sensitive topics that may offend. Asking a question, whether it be open-ended or simply requesting a show of hands helps to break the ice. In some cases, asking a rhetorical question or uttering a shocking statement or fact, can capture the learners’ attention. A classic hook is to quote a noteworthy saying from a well-known figure. An introduction serves as a hook, and the absence of an effective introduction may confuse or result in loss of interest.

Equally important is the visual content of the presentation. Scientists have shown that 80% of our learning takes place through vision. This preference for ocular stimulation is known as the Pictorial Superiority Effect which states that concepts are more likely to be remembered, recalled and recognised if they are presented as pictures in comparison to words.  The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words’ describes how a large amount of text can be summed up into one picture.

There is an emphasis on outcome-based and learner-centred learning. Facilitators have to ensure that the training they conduct provides consistent and systematic means for understanding the relationship between what the learners have learnt and what they can do as a result.

Facilitators also need to consider and draw upon the experience and educational background of adult learners. Most adult learners would have work and life experiences as well as a broad knowledge base which can be shared with other learners. This sharing can be a powerful learning method.

Producing Top-notch Trainers

“The quality of a training programme depends on the facilitators as well as the content. Facilitators need to be engaging and proficient in their delivery while taking into account the learners’ experiences. Combined with structured and cohesive learning content, this creates the perfect recipe for an effective learning environment.”

According to the PWC 2015 Annual Global Survey, developing key skills in an organisation through continuous learning programmes is a top priority for most CEOs. Nonetheless, investing a huge sum of money by sending employees to any training programme will not necessarily guarantee more knowledgeable staff. Instead, what many organisations are finding effective is to develop training capabilities within their own organisations. Successful organisations have got to where they are because of the expertise of their employees; so why not capitalise on internal knowledge and experience to train new staff? The major difficulty is that someone with functional expertise may not have any natural training ability. 

The quality of a training programme depends on the facilitators as well as the content. Facilitators need to be engaging and proficient in their delivery while taking into account the learners’ experiences.  Combined with structured and cohesive learning content, this creates the perfect recipe for an effective learning environment. 

Skills that can be observed across today’s successful trainers often revolve around their ability to understand adult learning principles, identify learning styles and then adapt their delivery to suit the needs of their participants. 

Similarly, learning content should be customised to suit the needs of separate audiences if possible. In reality that is not always feasible, as learning content is prepared in advance and is required to produce the same desired results without knowing specific details or learning styles of each participant. To counter this, successful content should appeal to a wide audience, and it is up to the trainer to use their observation skills to adapt their delivery to the needs of the participants. 

Training certification programmes have become a popular path for technical experts to better convey their knowledge. Investing in individuals who have organisational knowledge, technical expertise and experience so that they can develop the necessary training skills is becoming an affordable complement to external training providers. It is also an appealing career enhancement for senior professionals who are looking to develop their careers and contribute in a new way. 

With the right learning and development knowledge and training skills, organisations can develop their employees through engaging initiatives that meet the needs of adult learners. The employees that warrant investment are those that have a desire to develop themselves and their careers – many just need the right learning opportunities. 



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