How do Adults Learn? - Delivering Better Quality Training

What is the learning process?

Many people reading this will be work-based trainers who, as part of their job role undertake training and assessment of others. In order to be effective it is important that the trainer understands how adults learn. The process is a relatively simple one.

  • • Step One – The trainee receives information.
  • • Step Two – The trainee processes that information along with prior knowledge.
  • • Step Three – The trainee arrives at conclusions and understanding.
  • • Step Four – The trainee applies that information (for instance in a work setting) and confirms whether it works.

Step One - The trainee receives the information.

The most important role the trainer has in this process is to deliver the information to the trainees effectively at the first step. Understanding the different styles of learning is key to this working for the trainer and trainees.

There are generally considered to be three learning styles they are: visual, auditory and kinetic.

Visual Learners

These trainees rely on pictures, they like graphs, diagrams illustrations and models. ‘Show me’ is their motto. Using a power point presentation, flip chart or an overhead projector works very well with these trainees. These trainees love course handouts and will read these regularly to further their learning. Ensure the course handouts are clear, concise and informative.

Auditory Learners

These trainees listen carefully to all sounds associated with the learning. ‘Tell me’ is their motto. They will pay close attention to the sound of your voice and all its subtle messages. Your voice tone is very important to these trainees. Make sure that everyone can hear you - practice projecting your voice across a room before your session. Always keep your intonation interesting, that is, do not deliver your session using one flat tone throughout. Use pauses to add drama or impact to what you have just said and this also allows you to collect your thoughts.

Kinesthetic Learners

These trainees need to be physically doing something to understand it. Their motto is ‘Let me do it.’ Group work is an excellent way of teaching these trainees and of course practical skills are right up their street.

Most people use all three styles while they are learning, but one style is almost always preferred. To illustrate further how different styles work - consider this scenario:

You need to paint a room in your house, you have not done this before and you are unsure how much paint or other supplies you are going to need.

The visual learner will go on-line for advice, or buy a book/magazine on painting and decorating skills. They might go to the DIY shop and read the back of the paint cans or pick up leaflets on the subject.

The auditory learner will call up a friend for advice they might even attend a course on painting and decorating.

The kinesthetic learner buys a can of paint and a brush and starts painting. They might learn by experience that they have not bought enough paint and will remember this for next time around.

Of course, as we have said already most people use all three styles, so when the majority of people are faced with this scenario they might go to the paint shop, select some paint, ask the helpful shop owner for any advice they might have, pick up a leaflet and skim read it for the basic information we think we are going to need. If it then goes pear shaped for us we might call up a friend for advice.

The trick then to successful training is to use a variety of styles in your course programme. A training session incorporating group discussion, group work, a power point or overhead projector presentation, demonstration and the undertaking of practical skills will incorporate all of these styles and is more likely to make for an effective training session.

Step Two – The trainee processes information.

All adults compare new information with their previous knowledge and experience. An effective trainer gives time to the trainees to reflect, question and compare what they are learning with their current experience.

How many times as a trainer have you heard trainees say ‘I was taught to do a drag lift when I trained as a nurse’ or ‘we do not do it that way where I work.’? In order for trainees not to be become confused and possibly frustrated by different information, the effective trainer needs to give the trainees time to discuss their thoughts and experiences in an open and supportive way.

Step Three – The trainee understands information.

There is a point for the trainee when it all begins to make a lot more sense to them. They have had the time and the opportunity to digest the information given to them. They may have had the opportunity to practice skills in the training setting, they have aligned this information with their prior experience and they are ready to put the learning into practice.

Step Four – The trainee applies the information.

After the training is over, the trainees go back to work and try to decide if the information they have received is worthwhile or not. The trainer is not generally involved in this process and there is very little the trainer can do at this stage to persuade them. If the trainer has done their job well the trainee will decide it is worthwhile information and put their new skills into action. There may be a point at this stage where the trainer is involved further in supervising the trainee to ensure that the learnt skills are applied correctly.

When the learning process works well the end result is skilled and knowledgeable staff delivering a better quality product in the workplace.

On all EDGE Services’ Key Trainer’s courses delegates receive a 23 page book on ideas for making your training programmes more successful. The book explains learning styles and gives you useful tips for your own training programmes.


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