How adults learn and why so many of us hate training workshops.

25th May 2018

Imagine the scenario.

Its Monday morning.

You’re frustrated because you had to wake up earlier than usual. At 5:30 am. Not for a pressing personal priority, but because your company HR has sent you on a compulsory training course in a hotel downtown. And the traffic in that direction is crazy! The last training you attended was frustrating and full. You were already familiar with most of the concepts, having acquired your Masters degree in that field already. Plus, the trainer would not stop talking to let you engage and ask deeper questions!

It’s been 6 months since that tiring experience, and you’re due for another training.

This time around, you’re wary. The topic is completely new, but seems irrelevant to your department’s work. As you sit through the lengthy training, in that stuffy conference room, and those rigid chairs, you can’t help thinking about all the emails steadily filling up your inbox.

Sound familiar?

We’ve all experienced a training event like the one described above. Often these workshops claim to be practical and innovative and to help develop adult learners outside the school setting – but they don’t. The challenge with this model is that it forgets how adults learn in the first place.

It may seem obvious, but adults don’t learn in the same way as children do.

Adults don’t like being lectured. And they want to be in charge of their learning. They want to learn about things that are relevant to their social or work roles.

Adults also focus more on solution-oriented learning, rather than content-oriented learning. Finally, they have developed their own internal motivation to learn. Another way of putting it is that, while childhood education is usually course-based, adult education must embrace a campaign mindset with the objective of going beyond learning in order to improve performance. Read more here.

Some of the leading researchers in adult learning came up with the 70:20:10methodology, and it’s a great framework for thinking about learning. The model is most commonly linked to the researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina, who were examining how managers develop, grow and change over the course of their careers.

In essence, the model argues that adults learn primarily through experience, then social interaction, and the least through formal learning (roughly 70:20:10).

These three elements need to be seamlessly interwoven.

  • First an individual must recognize a need for change: usually through doing, observing, reflecting or discussion.
  • Then a solution is found: through by reading, discussion or listening, which can provide insight to the individual.
  • With practice and continuous feedback: the individual is able to develop the new and necessary skill.

So many adult training programmes completely ignore the 70 and 20 parts, and focus all their attention on the 10. While learning doesn’t have to happen at exactly a 70:20:10 ratio to be effective, and it doesn’t happen in any formulaic order, this model does a great job of highlighting the difference between adult learning and school-based learning for children, and reminding us that traditional lecture-based learning programmes simply do not work in the workplace setting.

AMI harnesses the 70:20:10 model in its programmes.

Our online courses provide a medium for reading and solo reflection, while interactive ‘Learning Lab’ workshops allow particants to learn and get feedback from others. This social learning is reinforced by online communities in our platform. Finally, our practical tool-based content, Action Learning Projects and iCoach goal-setting function make it easy for participants to apply their learnings to their work environment, rather than being caught up in theory.

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