Engaging Adult Learners

As an adult learner, what do you expect when you attend a professional development program?  See if you agree with my list:

  1. Participants actively participate
  2. The facilitator is aware of the level of engagement of participants and adjusts the delivery accordingly
  3. The facilitator does not do most of the talking, and pauses to allow others to comment or ask questions
  4. If s/he receives feedback about the delivery or degree of engagement, the facilitator adjusts his/her style
  5. In response to feedback, the facilitator can adapt the content, perhaps following the order of the conversation, which may be different from the order of the slides
  6. The facilitator is not wed to his/her slide deck, and can speak spontaneously or follow the flow
  7. The facilitator encourages interaction among the participants

All of these expectations accord with these principles of adult learning:

  • Adults learn best by processing information, usually through discussion with peers.
  • Adults bring wisdom and experience to the room, and benefit most from sharing that with each other. People like to help each other.
  • Adults need time to apply and test what they’re hearing against their lived experience.
  • Adults can take responsibility for their own learning – so they can express what would be most useful for their learning.

So, if you’re facilitating a group of adults for professional development or learning, allow for maximal participation of the audience.

  • Let them be a source of knowledge and advice.
  • If people give you feedback in the moment, adjust your delivery accordingly.
  • Be responsive to their learning needs.
  • Of course you need to balance the needs of all the participants, but being the good facilitator that you are, you would always check with them about changing direction.

Here’s to Engaging adult learners!


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