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  • Writer's pictureJeff Irvine

How to Motivate Adult Learners in Online Learning

Our experiences in school often dictate how we feel about learning as adult learners in later life. If we had negative experiences as children, we’ll likely avoid adult training programmes, or at least look at them cynically. But the thing is, we are not the same people we were at school. As we grow and develop, we return to the world of learning with a different mindset. This more mature outlook requires a different style of teaching.

Malcolm Knowles’ five principles of adult learning

Training professionals can learn a thing or two about teaching adults by following Malcolm Knowles’ five principles of adult learning. Malcolm Knowles observed that adult learners learn best when:

  1. They understand why they’re being taught

  2. They have the freedom to learn their own way

  3. Learning is experiential (i.e. they can try it out and put it into practice)

  4. The time is right for them to learn

  5. The process is positive and encouraging

Let’s look at these in more detail:

1. Adult learners need to understand why they’re being taught

Adult learners who voluntarily take eLearning courses will be more enthusiastic about their training. That might not be the case if employees feel they are being forced into workplace training. It’s important to explain how the training will benefit them.

For instance, you can highlight how the training will improve their job prospects. They’ll complete the training if they know that the skills they gain can help their careers.

Let’s say an adult learner has enrolled in an ‘Improving Closing Skills in Sales’ course. It’s a good idea to emphasise why closing skills are important and why they need to learn about it.

2. Adult Learners Learn their own way

We’re all different and therefore we all learn differently. Learning styles vary from person to person and are as unique as fingerprints. What works for some people won’t necessarily work for others.

That’s why you should cater for all learning styles, both in the learning content and on the platform it’s delivered on. Here’s how:

  •  Visual learners need videos, diagrams and photos.

  •  Auditory learners need a voice-over or video.

  •  Kinaesthetic learners need to be able to put something into practice to reinforce the learning.

Most adult learners will use all of these learning styles to some degree. Ensure that each style is included in every training initiative to cater for all adult learners.

3. Adult Learning should be experiential

It’s important to encourage activity within learning – whether that’s working out problems, conducting tests  or acting out role-plays.

Without interactivity, the learning becomes passive, unappealing or just outright boring! Just because your learners are adults, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a little fun in their lives! Create training that demands interaction at regular intervals and your learners will become active participants in their own development.

4. The time is right for them to learn

This principle highlights the importance of a timely learning programme. Things like user experience matter more today than ever before. If their training platform can’t give them what they need, when they need it, adult learners will quickly lose their patience.

If you have a formal training programme, your adult learners should be able to access it from any device, be it desktop, tablet or mobile. Better still, you should encourage informal learning at every opportunity. Your LMS should be able to facilitate knowledge sharing and let your adult learners forge their own path at a time that suits them.

5. The process is positive and encouraging

It’s vital to ensure that adult learners are encouraged, engaged and motivated, and that the learning journey is positive and enjoyable. After all, if a learner doesn’t really want to be there, they’ll start off on the wrong foot.

You can improve the learning journey for adult learners by making the process as compelling as possible. Add an extra layer of interactivity to prompt action, encourage return-visits and improve retention.

Gamification is the means of adding the mechanics that make games so addictive to non-game activities – like learning. Badges, experience points and leaderboards work in their own way to keep adult learners engaged with their training.

The next thing you need to secure engagement is a social element, letting adult learners work together and share knowledge. A culture of knowledge sharing boosts your training programme, but it also has a positive impact on your entire business. An informal learning aspect is also important because it’s how adult learners work together in their daily jobs.

The final piece in the engagement puzzle is personalisation – creating a learning environment that feels relevant to each individual. It’s only when the training has meaning for your adult learners that they’ll commit to it in full.

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