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How to apply adult learning principles in workplace safety training

Posted by NOSA on Jun 8, 2017 11:30:00 AM

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 We’ve covered how to implement a training-needs analysis. In the second of our blogs on rolling out HSE training in the workplace, we focus on the adult learning principles you’ll need to adopt for the training to be effective. The workers you want to train are adults, and adults share certain characteristics that make training more effective for them (or less effective if you ignore the characteristics). If your training recognises and respects these adult learning principles, it is likely to be more effective. If your training disregards these principles, you’re wasting training money.

Adult learners:

·         are self-directed

·         come to training with a lifetime of existing knowledge, experience, and opinions

·         are goal-oriented

·         want training that is relevant

·         want training that is task-oriented

·         learn when they see ‘what’s in it for them’

·         want to be and feel respected.


There are 6 main characteristics of adult learners:


Characteristic #1: Adult learning is self-directed/autonomous

Adult learners are actively involved in the learning process in that they make choices relevant to their learning objectives. As such, adult learners also direct their learning goals with the guidance of their mentors. As a trainer, it is important to facilitate the process of setting goals. Students need to be given the freedom to assume responsibility for their own choices. When it comes to workload, they also need to be proactive in making decisions and in contributing to the process.


Characteristic #2: Adult learning utilises knowledge and life experiences

Under this approach you should encourage learners to connect their past experiences with their current knowledge base and activities. Learners are taught ways to bring to their current placement past knowledge, opinions, and experiences. You need to be well-versed in how to help students in drawing out relevant past knowledge and experiences. In addition, you must know how to relate the sum of learners’ experiences to the current learning experiences.


Characteristic #3: Adult learning is goal oriented

The motivation to learn increases when the relevance of the ‘lesson’ through real-life situations is clear, particularly in relation to the specific concerns of the learner. The need to acquire relevant and adequate knowledge is extremely important. With this in mind, adult learning is characterised as goal oriented and you should clearly identify intended learning outcomes. Once the learning goals have been identified, you will align the learning activities to fulfil these objectives within a certain amount of time. This approach is a great way to maximise a student’s learning experience.


Characteristic #4: Adult learning is relevancy oriented

One of the best ways for adults to learn is by relating the assigned tasks to their own learning goals. If it is clear that the activities they are engaged into, directly contribute to achieving their personal learning objectives, then they will be inspired and motivated to engage in projects and successfully complete them.


Characteristic #5: Adult learning highlights practicality

Placement is a means of helping students to apply the theoretical concepts learned inside the classroom into real-life situations. It is very important to identify appropriate ways and convert theoretical learning to practical activities. Learning is facilitated when appropriate ways of implementing theoretical knowledge in real-life situations are made clear.


Characteristic #6: Adult learning encourages collaboration

Adult learners thrive in collaborative relationships with those who are training them. When learners are considered by their instructors as colleagues, they become more productive. When their contributions are acknowledged, then they are willing to put out their best work. 




How to apply adult learning theory to e-learning

According to American educator, Malcolm Knowles, there are five assumptions concerning the characteristics of adult learners. Despite the fact that Knowles' adult learning theory assumptions were introduced in the 1980s, you can use them today to help create more meaningful learning experiences for adult learners in the e-learning space.


Assumption #1: Self-concept

Create learning experiences that offer minimum instruction and maximum autonomy.

A major aspect of designing adult e-learning courses is having an e-learning support system to offer guidance and help, while still giving the e-learning tools and resources they need to learn on their own terms. Adult learners acquire new information and build upon existing knowledge much more effectively if they are encouraged to explore a topic on their own. While younger learners might need to be guided through the learning process, mature learners will typically get more out of the experience if they are able to work autonomously. This might come in the form of self-study or group collaboration projects that involve minimal instructor intervention. E-learning professionals can also offer simulations, scenarios, or games without needing to first offer any information. As such, the adult learners will have to explore the activity on their own, and decide which benefits and information they can take away from the e-learning experience. Having said that, you'll also want to have an e-learning support system in place if anyone needs to ask questions or to overcome any obstacles that may be hindering the e-learning process.


Assumption #2: Adult learner experience

Include a wide range of instructional design models and theories to appeal to varied experience levels and backgrounds.

Adult learners are more mature. Therefore, they have had more time to cultivate life experience and typically have a wider knowledge base. That means that you'll have to take into account that your adult learning audience is going to be more diverse, especially in terms of backgrounds, experience levels, and skill sets. While one adult learner may be well versed on how to search for resources online, another may have very little experience using the Internet. All of this must be considered when designing and developing your eLearning courses and eLearning activities. To appeal to different adult learners, it's often best to include a variety of different instructional design models and theories into your eLearning course or module. Survey your audience beforehand to determine any technical knowledge limitations they may have, as well as to assess their education levels. By doing this, you will also be able to create eLearning experiences that are informative and engaging, rather than too challenging or boring. For instance, if your target audience includes a number of adult learners who may already know how to use multimedia, then including them in your eLearning course will boost its effectiveness and make it more immersive.


Assumption #3: Readiness to learn

Utilise social media and online collaboration tools to tie learning to social development.

As we get older, we tend to gravitate more toward learning experiences that offer some sort of social development benefit. For example, we are often more ready to challenge ourselves with new learning opportunities if we know it will help us to fine tune skills relevant to our social roles. From an e-learning professional point of view, social media and online collaboration tools can help you to incorporate this assumption into your deliverables. Create activities that encourage adult learners to use sites, like LinkedIn and Google+, as invaluable tools. This can help them to not only build their social network, but collaborate with those who share the same interests.


Assumption #4: Orientation to learning

Emphasize how the subject matter is going to solve problems that an adult learner regularly encounters.

Adult learners, essentially, need to know the why and when before they actively engage in the e-learning process. For example, they will not only want to know why they need to acquire specific information, but whether or not that information can be applied in the immediate future. Younger learners accept the fact that the knowledge they're acquiring today may not be used for quite some time. However, mature learners prefer to engage in e-learning experiences that help them to solve problems they encounter on a regular basis (in the here-and-now, rather than the future). So, you'll want to emphasize how the subject matter is going to help them solve problems immediately by offering real world examples and scenarios.


Assumption #5: Motivation to learn

There must be a valid reason behind every e-learning course, module or educational activity.

Motivation is key with adult learners. As such, you will need to motivate them to learn by offering them a reason for every e-learning activity, assessment, or e-learning module they'll need to complete. E-learning professionals must explain why a particular course is being taught and why an adult learner must participate in an e-learning activity, in order for the overall e-learning experience to be meaningful and engaging. For example, if you are asking adult learners to complete a group collaboration task, you should also clearly define that this exercise will help them to build their team working abilities and communication skills, even after the e-learning course is over. While younger learners won't need to necessarily know the reason why they are required to participate in an activity, adult learners need to feel as though they are more involved in the process of learning. Otherwise, they will question the validity of the e-learning course, given that they don't see any real need for acquiring the new knowledge or skills.


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Topics: work safety, Safety training, HSE training, training programme, adult learning

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