Four principles to adapt your training to adult learners.

Effective internal training helps a Commercial Card program run smoothly and boosts compliance. When did you last evaluate your training program? Because adult learners create unique challenges, I consulted with an expert on this topic, Tanya Grosz, Ph.D.; Dean of Graduate, Online & Adult Learning for the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. Below, she shares four learning principles and translates how each can be put into practice. 

Andragogy vs. Pedagogy

Malcolm Knowles was an educator and researcher who came up with a set of assumptions and principles about adult learners and what they need to be successful in their learning environments. As opposed to pedagogy, which is the art and science of teaching children that focuses on what the teacher does, andragogy is the art and science of teaching adults. Andragogy focuses on the learner—what the learner does and needs.  The following four Knowles’ principles are applicable to nearly any adult learning environment.

1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.

This is not to say adults don’t want to learn from instructors’ experience, but, as we design learning environments, we should try to incorporate meaningful choices for the learner to make along the way. Instead of dictating exactly what and how they will learn something, try to solicit their feedback and allow them a voice in their learning.

2. Experience, including mistakes, provides the basis for learning activities.

The collective learning in a room full of adults is something to be honored and celebrated. There are many ways of doing this, but it could be as simple as asking each person to introduce themselves and what is important to them. Then, throughout the class, value their opinions, as no instructor has all the answers. 

3. Adults are most interested in learning about things that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.

The instructor must answer the “why” of what adults need to learn, but using a real-world application brings a classroom to life. 

Editor’s note: A Commercial Card training example is instructing cardholders on card/information security. The “why” is fraud prevention, as dealing with fraud is time consuming; this applies to commercial and consumer cards.

4. Adult learning is problem-centered versus content-oriented. 

This type of learning environment is inherently more engaging, authentic and motivating for students. One of my colleagues has the students in her marketing class actually analyze the marketing campaign used to draw them into the program, identify the weaknesses of the messaging, etc., and then work to improve it. 

Editor’s note: Within a Commercial Card program, invite cardholders to critique the policies and procedures guide, identify the weaknesses and suggest improvements.

To generate excitement, get trainees more involved.

To generate excitement, get trainees more involved.


My Reaction

Tanya’s insight made me think about our PowerPoint-centered business environment, whether at the office or an industry event, so I mentioned this to her. She acknowledged,  “While PowerPoint is still the currency of the business world, it is becoming less so in the higher education world. Nowadays, presentations involve active learning.” To be continued...

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About the Editor

Lynn Larson, CPCP, editor of the blog, founded Recharged Education in January 2014. With more than 15 years of Commercial Card experience, her mission is to make industry education readily accessible to all. Learn more

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