Learning as an Adult: Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

LearningAdult Learning

By adult I mean an individual who is out of school, high school, college or otherwise. It’s true, as we get older we usually get a little lazier with learning new things. We feel we’ve been through enough school and already know enough. Our brain is full so why fit anything more in there? We are also much more independent and have more control over what we want to do. That’s the tricky thing with adult learning. Not only does the information need to be accurate, but the material also has to be made interesting enough for people to want to pay attention to it.

The short answer to the question posed by the title of this page is a definite yes. The idea that people (dogs too) can’t learn anything new after a certain point is a huge misconception. It might get a bit harder to learn a new subject or master a new skill, but any adult is generally capable of fitting new stuff into their brain.

How to best get adults to learn in a training program

An adult typically evaluates a training program based on its credibility, practicality and need. It might vary from person to person. If you have a training program that proves itself in all three areas, then adults participating in the training are most likely to both learn and, more importantly, use what they learned after the training. When you prove a training program’s credibility, practicality and need, you can be confident that it’s going to be effective.

It’s all about the Buy-In

One of the most important first steps in designing a successful adult learning program is getting participants to buy-in. That is, to get people to understand the importance of learning the material and make a connection to it. Some call this connection an affective learning outcome. Affect simply refers to an emotional connection. This connection goes beyond realizing something is important. It means buying-in on a deeper level which affects your attitudes, mood and effort towards a particular object or goal. It is a powerful way to prove a training is practical and necessary.

WIIFM – “What’s In It For Me?”

Getting adults to effectively commit to learning something is possible. For starters, you should state the importance of a subject and the consequences of learning or not learning it. For example, making it clear that learning a defensive driving technique can save lives is a simple way of getting someone to emotionally buy into training. Another way to achieve affective learning outcomes is answering the question: “what’s in it for me?”. Also, referred to as WIIFM, answering this question will get the greatest amount of buy-in from adults. It helps them understand why they are here and why they should put effort into learning something new.

Learning to be Credible

Setting the stage by making adult learning interesting, communicating its importance and its necessity, and how it’ll be used fulfills the practicality and need requirements. You can prove a program’s credibility by using knowledgeable trainers or by communicating how effective the training was in the past. Getting participants to affectively commit to a program by reaching emotions and answering WIIFM are the other important elements every great adult learning training program should have.

Put all this together and you have yourself the start of a program that will effectively teach almost anything to almost any adult, whether human or dog.