Teaching adults requires special approach

Dec. 1, 2004
TEACHING adults requires a different approach than that used in teaching young people, said Michael Callan of Callan & Co. Everything you teach them has

TEACHING adults requires a different approach than that used in teaching young people, said Michael Callan of Callan & Co.

“Everything you teach them has to be relative to them … They are not the same students that they were in high school and college,” he said in discussing employee training at the OPSEM meeting.

Increases in required employee training, particularly on safety and security topics, means that companies spend a great deal of time and money developing and implementing training programs. To insure that training pays off in the workplace means that the instructors must be successful in their efforts, Callan said.

Like writers, instructors must know their audience in order to present concepts that will be interesting and retained. The training content should be adapted to the group that is receiving it in order to avoid alienating the audience. “Students have to see that what they are learning is worthy,” he said.

Adult students are less likely to participate in the classroom unless they are stimulated by the instructor, he said. And, if the information they are receiving conflicts with their own concepts, the students are less likely to accept that information.

Adults are hesitant to answer questions in the classroom setting, even when they probably know the answer, because they fear they will be wrong. Callan advises instructors to encourage participation through discussion rather than posing right/wrong questions.

At the same time, he believes that students in the classroom behave with a herd instinct that can sometimes be difficult to handle. For example, some discussions may lead to individual scenarios that sidetrack the subject focus.

“You need to move them slowly,” Callan said.

Subject retention is based on the way the subject is presented. Students are more likely to remember 90% of the material if they talk about the training at the same time they are performing it.

Less retention (20%) occurs if students just listen to what is being presented, such as in a classroom lecture. They will do better if they can see something demonstrated (30%), see and hear something demonstrated (50%), and by repeating the lesson orally (70%).

“Adults like to solve problems,” he said. “Feedback is a positive tool.”

Another way to encourage class discussion is to give students material several days before the class is conducted to give them time to become familiar with the subject.

The classroom environment plays another role in stimulating students. Callan recommended providing a table surrounded with comfortable chairs. Room temperature should be comfortable — ”not too hot, not too cold,” he said.

Classes should be scheduled at a time when the employees have not been working all day and are tired.

“Students need to be relaxed and ready to learn,” Callan said.

To increase subject retention, drills should follow instruction. When the training is completed, students can be observed on the job to evaluate training results.

“One of the easiest ways to reduce your liability is to run two drills a year,” he said. “The more time you practice — you get two things: They get the practice and they retain the information.”

His final advice: practice, practice, practice.