teaching adults

Just like learning is hard work, teaching is too. It’s probably harder. While teaching kids is frustrating because they sometimes “just don’t get it,” teaching adults can be frustrating because they sometimes don’t want to “get it.” Individuals within companies charged with training a new workforce are all too often left with inadequate resources and unmotivated participants. Teaching adults is difficult, but these five tips can help you make it successful and, believe it or not, rewarding.

  1. Encourage Questions

Nobody learns by just passively listening to what an instructor has to say. Questions make us think and when we think, we learn. Encourage participants to actively engage the material. They should think about the importance of the subject and compare it with what they already know.

Participants should always be asking questions. However, the questions don’t always have to be out loud. Instead, encourage them to ask themselves the questions as information is being presented. How will this help me? How does this fit in to the big picture? How does this relate to what I already know?

  1. Coach Participants through Failure

When people fail, they need support and encouragement. People rarely fail because they aren’t capable enough. Rather, they fail because they need more practice. If someone gets a question wrong, ask them if they have another idea or give them a chance to provide a different answer. The important part is making sure they understand why an answer is correct.

Making mistakes can be frustrating, but don’t let students or participants get discouraged. Help them focus on the big picture. Be sure to compliment them on the parts that they do right. Build on their limited success.

  1. Preach the Relevance

Before an adult is willing to exert mental energy toward learning a new task, he or she must understand why the knowledge or skill is necessary. Never shy away from explaining this. Teach them the principle of W.I.I.F.M: what’s in it for me? If they ask themselves this, and you can answer it, the learning process will be easier.

  1. Be a Good Role Model

The participants pay attention to what you think of the subject matter. Even if it doesn’t seem like they care what you think, they do. If you’re bored, they’ll be bored. If you engage the material, however, they’re much more likely to want to learn it. In short, be a good role model for the proper attitude to have towards the subject matter. This will make the learning process successful and more rewarding for everyone involved.

Being a role model also means modeling how to perform the skills that you’re teaching them. Think all the way back to when you were a child and your mom taught you how to tie your shoes. She probably showed you how. She demonstrated it, while explaining what she was doing. That’s basically how we learn skills – we watch other people and then we copy what they do. This is a learning process called modeling.

Whenever you see fit or when students ask certain questions, model the correct behaviors. Share your experience and expertise.

The following are the steps to use to effectively model behaviors:

  • Describe the correct behavior – let the participants know what you expect.
  • Demonstrate the correct behavior.
  • Have participants practice the behavior.
  • Provide feedback so the participants can improve the skill.
  1. Mistakes Are Good

You’ve heard it before, but it’s especially true for teaching adults; making mistakes is part of learning. When students or participants learn a new skill, they may get an answer wrong on the exam or say the wrong thing in a discussion. This will actually make learning easier. Give them another shot to figure out why they’re wrong and what the correct answer is. It’s always better to make mistakes in training rather than on the job.