Designing and developing training for adult learners

Adult educators need to consider different ways to engage their audience.  Many in the field of education, including Ota and et. al (2006) and Yap (2009) recognize that adult learners have specific needs when it comes to acquiring new knowledge and/or skills.  These needs include understanding the reason for learning something new and how it would apply to their day to day lives.  Adult learners are more inclined to learn if they are able to take charge of their learning and apply their own experiences/knowledge to the topic at hand.  As such, these days many educators are turning to technology to address these various needs that their adult learners present.

New Insights and Trends:

 In the world of corporate training, organizations are looking for ways to deliver training frequently, by reaching more audience members who are geographically separated, while staying within the existing budgetary constraints (Woodall, 2010).  Blended learning offers a solution by combining both synchronous (real time training where the trainer and participants are present at the same time) and asynchronous training (where trainer [or computer course ware program] and participants interact at different times).

Currently, certain educators worry that maybe learning will not be achieved as well in a blended environment as it would in the classic face to face environment.  To address this, one study by Fish and Kang (2014) tried to keep all other factors as constant and measured the learning outcomes of a stress management course that was taught online versus face to face.  They found that in a right delivery medium there are no significant differences among learners whether they were in an online platform or in a classroom.

However Woodall notes that it is important to not just “hastily” mix different technology but to be more methodical regarding what level of objectives needs to be achieved, while considering the characteristics and needs of the potential participants.  Hofmann (2014) echoes the need to be strategic when designing courses and programs so that entire programs are not being forced in just one “delivery modality” or make the “assumption that all delivery modalities treat all types of content the same way”.  She suggests exploring Chruches (2009) revision of Blooms taxonomy to use as a reference when designing courses.  This digital taxonomy can help better identify which objectives can best be met using which delivery medium.

Integrating Technology:

In recent years, I have been involved in designing and delivering training using online tools and platforms in various settings, such as corporate training and post secondary education.  Although all audience members are adults, it is very apparent that their needs and comfort with technology varies and thus it is important for me to keep those differences in mind while designing and delivering courses.  I would agree with Hofmann that we can not only focus on one type of modality or think that all types of content can be delivered using same technology.  Blooms digital taxonomy greatly helps when designing courses online.  Being also aware of your audience member’s comfort and skill with technology can help decide how the content would be presented and what type of support needs to be provided to ensure learners succeed.

Web conferencing:

In discussing the role of technology in teaching, my colleague Nripjeet makes a point that with the changing demographics of the developing world, it is no longer only the Western societies that have access to technology.  Technology is not just a tool but has been infused in every aspect of society. Thus it is imperative to think globally and consider the various educational needs of adult learners around the world.  It is then interesting to see how institutions such as MIT, Harvard, Khan Academy are reaching wider audiences by offering free courses globally.

With more and more learners expected to at least take some online training (Staker, 2011; Woodall, 2010), it is important that educators and instructional designers take advantage of the various guides and webinars and blogs that are available.  Educational Technology and Mobile Learning is one of the blogs that has great resources including “Teachers easy guide to the most important web tools in education” and “teacher guides” about multitude of topics to help teachers incorporate technology in their instruction.  Edutopia and eLearning Industry are also some other sites that offer great resources for educators.

Lesson Planning

Lesson Planning

According to VCC PIDP course in adult education there are eight fundamental components to consider when creating a lesson plan. These are Bloom’s taxonomy, characteristics of adult learners, creating a positive learning environment, motivational techniques, assessment, instructional process/strategies, media and planning. All these components are interrelated and for this blog I will concentrate on five of the eight components that have had the most impact in my design and delivery of training recently.

Blooms Taxonomy:

When designing training modules or courses online it is not enough to only consider the different delivery mediums but also to evaluate whether the medium which is being chosen can in fact achieve the learning level that you hope to be accomplished by your learners. This is where Bloom’s digital taxonomy can be a great tool, especially when considering how collaborative activities would enhance learning. For an example, take a look at Jennifer Hoffman’s post on Designing blended learning with Bloom’s digital taxonomy. I found her post and the tool itself to be helpful in discussing with managers and subject matter experts the level of learning that we can accomplish when revising and/or designing courses to be delivered online.

Characteristics of adult learners:

One of the great advantages of delivering to an adult audience is the great amount of knowledge and experience that they bring to the table. Unfortunately in today’s training sessions too often the content seems to push the process away.

I really enjoyed reading the report written by Fraser Region Consortium on Exploring adult learning in the Fraser Region. The report is very detailed on the changing demographics of the Fraser Region and the need for educational institutions to revise their programs and courses to meet the needs of the adult learner. The National Institution for Staff and Organizational Development has also published a report identifying the top factors to consider when designing and delivering to adult learners. The report emphasizes the importance of giving opportunities for the participants to share and engage with the materials in such a way that makes it applicable to their everyday lives.

So as we move forward and design or revise our training, it is important to have candid conversations with managers or subject matter experts who may wish to continue pushing loads of content and the importance of advising them of the necessity of process itself, which is integral to learning.


Usually when it comes to course assessments, I find we wait till the end to ask participants to give us their feedback using a short survey. These surveys are typically “smiley” sheets with rating scales that don’t really say much about the learner’s experience and how the instruction, content and/or delivery methods could be improved.

Claude Bennett identified a hierarchy of cause and effect tool which can be used to justify the continuation of any program. Roberts Evaluation demonstrates a case study of how a program can be evaluated using Bennett’s hierarchy.

As a training consultant, Bennett’s hierarchy would allow me to build a stronger case to demonstrate how effective a program/project has been and whether changes need to be made to ensure the key deliverables and objectives are accomplished and the funding is continued.

Instructional Process/Strategies:

Ramsey Musallam Ted Talk on three rules to spark learning is a great resource to keep the participants attention and engaged in their learning. He identifies these rules as embracing curiosity, to engage the trial and error process and to take time to reflect on what has learned.

His talk really resonated with me as I revise courses to really explore opportunities where the learners can ask questions, without reproach and feel safe in doing so. I will also endeavor to provide occasions for learners to practice their new found skills and knowledge. Furthermore, participants would be given a chance to journal so that they may reflect and consider what they have learned.


Using media to engage the audience could be many things including PowerPoint presentations, podcasts, videos, simulations and so on. As I continue to integrate technology in my courses, I came across Ferriman’s post of Guide to online course design, where he outlines key components to consider when designing online courses. Student interaction and sharing of content are highlighted as well as the importance of making access to the course easy and straight forward; which are all important components to consider while designing/revising courses.

Adult learning principles

Over the years the majority of my work has been training adult learners in different settings.  Based on this experience and the research that I have studied to date, there seems to be eight distinct principles that one needs to follow when offering training to adults.  These are:

1. Need to know:  Let your learners know WHY they need to learn something.

2. Self direction:  Treat your learners as the ones responsible for their own learning. Present variety of opportunities and resources for adults to process the learning.

3. Prior knowledge: Appreciate and acknowledge the work/life experience your learners bring with them.

4. Relevance:  Ensure what is covered in the training is relevant and applicable to your learners’ everyday lives.

5. Respect: Allow your learners to voice their opinions and ask questions.

6. Diversity: Acknowledge the rich background that your learners come with and be aware of the different learning needs that they may present.

7. Motivation: Take the time to identify your learners’ motivation to learn. Most adult learners are driven by internal motivators.

8. Multiple roles:  Recognize the different roles that many adult learners have and thus offer learning opportunities that they can access in their own time and space.

If you are one who tends to offer learning opportunities for the youth, you may want to check out Edutopia’s blog.  Interestingly there are quite a bit of commonality between youth and their adult counterparts when it comes to learning.

Instruction versus facilitation

Over the years I have worked in many different settings offering learning events to adults and youth.  One thing that stands out to me is that depending on the purpose of the session my role may shift from an instructor to a trainer to a facilitator.  So what is the difference you may ask?

I think Langevin Learning Services coins it best by stating that “the purpose will determine the structure of the session and the skill set used to deliver it”.  If the idea is to teach your participants a new skill or knowledge, then the role needed is one of an instructor or a trainer.  An instructor may just present the information, where the trainer would hopefully demonstrate how the information will be applied.  However, the result may be that the participants will only achieve the first two levels of Blooms Taxonomy in the cognitive domain, which is primarily to recall and understand the information presented.

In reality, too often participants need to go beyond recall and learn to actually apply what they have learned.  In order to achieve that level of learning, one needs to go beyond theory and allow opportunities for participants to try out their new found knowledge and skills.  For this learning to take root, the information must be relevant to the participants.  That is when the role shifts from being an instructor to being a facilitator.

As a facilitator you encourage participants to share ideas, try out skills, bring forth scenarios and learn from one another.  This engagement requires different types of skills and tools to be used.  The result is a very rich environment that is changing and adapting to the needs of the learners, which is one of the primary principles of adult learning.

Next week I will post further about adult principles.  Meanwhile, I am interested to hear your thoughts about the differences between instructing and facilitating.