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8 Fundamental Principles for Effective Adult DEI Learning

When designing training materials and programs for adults, it is important to understand that adults learn differently than children. Malcolm Knowles, a researcher in adult learning, identified eight fundamental principles to incorporate when developing training for adults.

1. Self-Direction and Motivation: Adults are more motivated to learn if they perceive a direct benefit. Programs should communicate their benefits to promote engagement, and the early stages should be intentionally simple to help students get going. Adults will engage in self-directed learning at higher rates than younger learners if the value is well expressed.

2. Previous Life Experience: Adults use their life experiences to help engage with new ideas. While this can accelerate understanding, there is a risk that an adult learner will bring biases into the process, which can affect their information gathering. Including bias training and basic research methods in programs can ease any impediments to learning.

3. Results Oriented: Goal setting is essential, and the students’ motivation is key to success. Supportive information and tools stimulate learner engagement with program content. Clarity about how the program connects to adult learners’ work is essential.

4. Relevance and Value: Information that is relevant to adult learners promotes sustained engagement, particularly in the case of longer-term training programs. Reminders of the big picture value of the program to the company or institution and how it will benefit individuals also serve to maintain learner interest.

5. Application and Practicality: Adults are attracted to practical solutions and problem-solving. Information readily applied to real-world situations encourages experiential learning, allowing adult learners to draw on their life experiences and integrate new information with their existing body of knowledge.

6. Role Models and Mentorship: Learning by example is an effective method for adult learners, both informally from company leaders and instructors and more formally in mentor/mentee relationships. Encouraging mentorship within training programs provides valuable opportunities for interdepartmental and cross-team connections.

7. Variety of Learning Modalities: Adults are aware that knowledge may be acquired in various ways, including from new formats. Learner engagement increases with the available options, so that an effective training program will provide a variety of learning formats.

8. Agency: Adult learners like to feel that they can contribute to training program content and have some control over how they engage with the training from day to day. Self-directed learning increases with learners’ understanding of program goals and their relevance to the company and themselves.

Incorporating these principles in training materials and programs will help engage adult learners and increase their retention of the material. Additionally, by understanding how adults learn, trainers can design effective training programs that will contribute to the success of their organizations.


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