HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsThe art of facilitating adult learning

The art of facilitating adult learning


Over the centuries, much attention has been directed towards the issue of effective facilitation of learning with regard to adult learning.

This week we focus on one of the concepts of adult learning, which have become the pillar of corporate training.

The first part of a series of articles in this area of study will focus on the background of this area of adult learning as well as assumptions underlying adult learning.

Firstly, let us briefly examine the differences between adults and children.

The following are some of the notable differences between adults and children that will influence our facilitation initiatives towards adults in a training environment.

Firstly, it has been noted that children rely mostly on others to decide what is important to be learned while adults decide for themselves what is important to be learned.

This leaves adults with the freedom to decide for them the direction they may take in terms of their career aspirations.

Secondly, children expect what they are learning to be useful in the long-term, while adults expect what they are learning to be immediately useful.

If the learning is related to their job, they expect to be able to use the information gained immediately to improve the way they do the job.

Thirdly, children have little ability or no experience upon which to draw, that, is they are relatively “clean slates” while on the other hand adults do possess much experience upon which to draw, that is, they may have fixed viewpoints.

This is an indicator to show that adults have much to bring into the training environment.

Finally, children have little ability to serve as a knowledgeable resource to their teacher or fellow classmates while adults do possess a significant ability to serve as knowledgeable resource to the facilitator.

Having knowledge of these fundamental differences is important to you as a trainer since they give a clear picture of the nature of trainee that you are dealing with and will guide you in choosing the appropriate training techniques to use during training.

It is also important for you as a trainer to be aware of some of the assumptions underlying adult learning as it will assist you in knowing your trainees better.

The following are some of the assumptions underlying adult learning that you might need to pay attention to.

The first one is self-directedness.

It is assumed that as a person grows up and takes on varying life tasks, he/she tends to depend more on his/her own judgment than the judgment of others.

This then shows that adult learners are driven by their maturity to enable them not to take things at face value.

The second assumption has to do with experience.

As a person matures, they accumulate a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.

As a trainer, you then need to take advantage of that reservoir of experience during the training session in order to enrich the training programme. The other assumption underlying adult learning is readiness to learn.

It is assumed that as a person grows and mature, his/her readiness to learn is increasingly oriented towards the developmental tasks of his/her social roles.

The fourth assumption has to do with orientation to learning.

The assumption in this case is that as a person grows and matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application and accordingly his orientation towards learning shifts from one of subject-centredness to one of problem centredness.

This leaves you as the trainer with the task of ensuring that you succeed in facilitating the transfer of knowledge acquired in a training situation into the real work environment so that the trainee is able to solve work-related problem immediately after training.

The last assumptions are linked to motivation to learn on the part of the adult learner.

It is assumed that at the level of a maturing individual, motivation to learn is intrinsic; it is an often internally derived motivation to engage into some learning enterprise.

So it is imperative for every trainer to take time and reflect on the issues raised in this article with the aim of knowing better the trainee they are dealing with.

Paul Nyausaru is a training and development practitioner. He can be contacted on email pnyausaru@yahoo.co.uk . Views contained in this article are personal.

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