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The Importance Of Adult Learning Principles In Organisational Learning

The Importance Of Adult Learning Principles In Organisational Learning

2020 has forced many changes in the way individuals, and organisations as a whole, work and interact with each other. These changes have been both swift and long lasting. For some this has proven to be an opportunity to adapt and grow. For others a sense of devastation and loss will leave lasting impacts that will never see them return to “normal” again – whatever that may mean in this current world.

One thing is sure – no matter what the change, or the resulting effects, the need for continued information sharing and organisational learning remains a vital requirement for business growth and survival and one that growing organisations list as high priority. It is important that learning is continuous and effective.

Ensuring that organisational learning is, not only possible, but regular and effective, has become another one of the many challenges that leaders face but cannot ignore. Ensuring that teams have the knowledge and skills they need to perform their roles is an important one and unfortunately also a difficult one to achieve. The goal for organisational learning is often to educate and also aims to result in behavioural change. This is where it gets difficult and effective learning organisations need to adhere to adult learning principles to assist with success. In order to improve success rates we need to explore how and why adults learn and how adult learning principles are relevant to training and development.

To begin, let us examine what the adult learning principles are, and then how they can be applied.

  • Adults have a higher sense of self-direction and motivation.
  • Adults are focused on achieving goals.
  • Adults need to know how the information is relevant.
  • Adults are practical.
  • Adults use their life experience to facilitate learning.
  • Adults are looking for help and mentorship.
  • Adults are open for modern ways of learning.

So how do we use this knowledge?

  1. MOTIVATE YOUR LEARNERS TO LEARN WITH RELEVANCE AND GOALS

    Learning for adults only occurs with a need and a desire to learn. Adults come across something they don’t know how to do, or a problem that they cannot solve and they will be motivated to think and act differently to solve it. The greater the need to learn – the higher the motivation and the greater the success rate of achieving behavioural change. Rule number one: Motivate your learners to learn! Don’t tell them! Ensure the learning is relevant and set goals for achievement.

  2. INVOLVE, AND STIMULATE THE LEARNER

    When adults are ready to learn the next step is to collect information relevant to the topic or problem. Adults like to explore and discover to gain the information – so ensure your learning involves asking questions, talking to others, reading, observing and relating all of this information to the problem or learning need. Don’t think that “talking at” someone or forcing them to “read” something will result in any learner or behavioural change.

  3. ENSURE LEARNING IS TIMELY AND “CHUNKED” WITH SPACED REPITION

    Learning opportunities, or training that is provided to early, or too late can almost guarantee failure. Additionally, huge amounts of new material is difficult to digest and even harder to retain and implement!
    The “forgetting curve” will ensure that anything new learnt will not only result in zero behavioural change but will be completely forgotten within a very short time as discovered by Herman Ebbinghaus in the 19th century. Ebbinghaus discovered a mathematical formula that describes the rate at which information is forgotten after it is learned, and this research is referenced by various scholars in the analysis of intervals required to increase learning and retention. The curve for forgetting new information is very steep initially with learners forgetting more than half of what they learn within a matter of hours and all of the learning within days and weeks if it is not re-applied and re-enforced.
    Conversely, information is remembered, retained and implemented if received in smaller “Chunked”, or grouped sections over a spaced amount of time with ongoing re-enforcement.
    This means that the huge expense of “one- off” face-to-face training and workshops is usually completely wasted if learners do not reinforce the learning.
    The greatest chance for behavioural change to occur is when effective learning is delivered in smaller chunks of information which is spaced and re-enforced for retention.

  4. ALLOW LEARNERS TO CONTRIBUTE THEIR VAST AMOUNT OF PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE AND TEST NEW LEARNINGS

    Adult learners bring a huge amount of knowledge and experience to any situation which is incredibly varied. It is extremely important to allow them to draw on and share this knowledge and differing viewpoints. A truly engaging learning experience comes from applying current skills and knowledge, examining options and exploring for new possibilities. This done in consultation with other learners provides and even better learning opportunity and increased success rates.

  5. PROVIDE OPPORTUNITY TO APPLY AND REINFORCE LEARNING

    Ensure that your new learning requirements are implemented, cemented and supported for ongoing change. This means from an organisational level also. Provide opportunity for feedback, continued improvement and implementation of new learning. This is the fundamental requirement for true learning and behavioural change.

  6. ENSURE YOUR LEARNING EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST IT CAN BE

    Adult learners are actually open to new learning experiences, and ways of learning, and will embrace varied options provided they are simple and user friendly. Respect your learners when opportunities are possible to give them the opportunity to learn WHEN they want to learn and WHERE they want to learn.
    If the option is there, allow adults to be responsible for their own scheduling and to access to material and styles of learning. Aim to deliver learning to address as many learning styles as possible including visual, auditory and kinesthetic, or “hands on”. This is extremely easy when using on-line, or self-directed learning so ensure that you utilise systems and processes that allow this. When looking at learning systems there is a vast range of effective options available currently to suit any budget.

In summary, if you require your adult learners to ACTUALLY LEARN and additionally CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOUR you must treat your adult learners with respect. Encourage participation and exploration of new information and support them with feedback, encouragement and re-enforcement and you will see a vast improvement on the amount of information retained and most importantly on the amount of behavioural change that will occur.

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