A recent conversation with a client revolved around the self-esteem of adult learners. In the 1970’s, Malcolm Knowles wrote extensively about learning principles relating to self-esteem specifically in adult learners. He believed that adult learners have something to lose and a strong need to maintain their self-esteem. Courses they attend should be set up to ensure successful outcomes, and adult learners need to feel they are being heard.
I doubt that many training professionals would disagree with these theories, but do they still hold up in 2017? Of course, they do—maybe more so now than ever!
Adult learners also need a safe learning environment where there is no risk to them in making mistakes as they learn. They’re accustomed to being self-directed and as a result, have expectations and desires that need to be met when they attend training sessions. A successful training experience will be one where the course leader consults and works with the learner, rather than directs them. Ideally, we want to create a positive training experience that is risk-free and non-threatening, as well as challenging, yet supportive.
Here are five tips for maintaining self-esteem for your adult learners:
1. Make sure objectives are achievable. Start with the simplest ideas or processes and move to more complex ones.
2. Design activities and structure your training so learners can experience a sense of success and achieve the required performance.
3. Frame questions to encourage deeper learning. For example, open-ended questions cannot be answered by a simple yes or no. They promote reflection and can be answered in many different ways; whereas, a closed-ended question is typically answered with a simple yes or no response.
4. Make sure your feedback is meaningful and balanced. Point out areas of success in a genuine way, without overdoing it or gushing.
5. Ask quieter, more reserved learners to contribute in a safe, non-threatening format. For example, try asking safe questions where the learner can summarize or agree/disagree. No learner wants to be singled out. Maintaining the self-esteem of your learners is critical, not only in the training but on the job as well.
A successful training experience sets the learner up for success back on the job. Have fun exploring these tried and true adult learning principles!
Learn more about the principles of adult learning and how to incorporate them into your training by enrolling in our How Adults Learn workshop today!
I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section about what works for you in YOUR training sessions!