Connect Your Learners To Your Training

WRITTEN BY: Sarah Cordiner

Many educators have at some point experienced what it’s like to lose the attention of their class. Whether it be to an excitable conversation going on between students, a drama happening outside the window, an interruption by someone entering the classroom, a mobile device or laptop they are working with, or simply a lack of interest in the training – the latter being the most common cause of all.

A lack of learner interest in the topic often comes down to the training missing the adult learning principle of ‘relevance’. Save & Exit

If your training programs are not designed, delivered or contextualised in a way that continuously reinforces how what is being learned directly applies the daily life and work of each individual student, then engagement levels are highly likely to waver.

Your learners need to know why and how your training applies to them and their lives in order to fully engage.

The Importance of Relevance:

Have you ever had to sit through a meeting where everything being discussed has nothing to do with your role or even your department? For those who have, you’d know that trying to maintain concentration is difficult, even for the most motivated of people. This is because when we feel that information is not relevant to us, our brain turns off and ‘saves its batteries’ for something else.

If your learners do not feel like your training is relevant to them, their willingness, or readiness to learn, will be unsubstantial at best. This characteristic of adult learning considers an adult’s need for relevance in their educational programs. This refers to their willingness and preparation to get started on their learning journey. It proposes that the content of a training program must be meaningful and relevant to the adult learners, their lives and their business. They have to clearly see why and how this is important to them personally and how it applies to their life.

Creating Relevance:

Relevance is a highly subjective consideration and many training programs make applying this principle even harder for themselves as they do not have a system in place for collecting information from learners in advance to find out why the training is important to them, or what purpose they personally see it playing in the bigger picture of their lives.

Always make sure that your pre-enrollment information collects this kind of information.

While the relevance in many cases may be obvious, such as a tradie taking a specific trade qualification; a business owner taking an MBA; a high-risk worker taking their high-risk work licence; the relevancy is not always as clear.  We can never assume what the underlying motivations are behind a learner enrolling in our programs.  By including an inquiry into our learner motivations as a pre-enrollment activity, we can better lay the foundations for embedding the adult learning principles of relevance in our training.

The immediate value of the learning needs to be clearly understood by the learner. If they can’t see how they personally can apply the learning to their own lives and roles, motivation towards the training will be significantly reduced. There are a few ways that you can design and deliver your training programs to ensure that you meet this principle in your courses. Adults are ready to learn when they see your course as something that they want to learn or master.

Second to wanting to learn the skills is feeling that they need to learn whatever your course is teaching in order to get better at their job or life in some way. An adult’s readiness to learn will increase when they can see that taking on the new information, skill, knowledge or competency will help them directly improve their own world.

Setting Clear Goals and Outcomes:

Adult learners focus on the goals and outcomes that the learning will provide them, and they then use these to decide if those outcomes are relevant to them and if they are ready to acquire those outcomes.

Ensure that your course sales pages and descriptions clearly explain the outcomes they will get in as much detail as possible, in language that is most likely to be used by your target learner so that the highest opportunity exists for them to see the relevancy of your training.

Break your outcomes down into their smallest parts. For example, if you were teaching a course on how to make a sandwich, don’t just say in the description “In this course, you will learn how to make the world’s most delicious sandwich.”

Breakdown everything they will learn about making that sandwich, listing specific learning outcomes that cover every stage of the process, e.g., you may create multiple learning outcomes for each one of these stages:

  1.   shopping for and selecting the ingredients
  2.   how to tell if the ingredients are fresh and ripe
  3.   different types of bread and how they affect the taste of the sandwich
  4.   how to safely and effectively slice the bread
  5.   the correct layering of the sandwich filling
  6.   the perfect amount of butter and how to spread it without breaking the bread
  7.   how to cut the sandwich into the most aesthetically pleasing shape

Of course, this is a silly sandwich example, but by the time you have done the equivalent in your own topic, you will find that you have deeply illustrated significantly more outcomes than your course originally would have described and had subsequently multiplied the opportunity for learners to see your course’s value and relevance to them.

In summary, adult learners

  • want timely learning, i.e. they only want to learn things that are relevant and applicable right now
  • seek meaningful learning experiences
  • need clear learning objectives so that they can decide if the learning is directly relevant to their immediate wants and needs.
  • realise that learning is applicable to their work or other responsibilities and is of value to them.

Therefore, course creators, facilitators and educators of all kinds must identify objectives and explicit learning outcomes for adult participants before the course begins in order to capture their attention and engage them from the outset.

It also means that theories and concepts must be related to a setting familiar to the participants. This way, learners will be able to fit the information they need to know into the framework of information that they already possess. This enables learners to not only find relevance in your course materials but also enables them to remember what you are teaching and take that information with them far beyond the end of your session. If they are able to link your content into what they already know, if they are able to contextualise your material, then their mind can connect it to something that is already placed in their memory and makes it easier for them to recall.

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