Adult Learning Quick Takes: Life-Experienced

Adult Learning Quick Takes: Life-Experienced

We've been working through the acronym "ADULT" as a way of considering some foundational information about adult learning. Today, L:

Adults are LIFE-EXPERIENCED. They bring established values, beliefs and opinions that may align with or contradict the course material. They also have a wealth of practical knowledge they’re eager to share.

The good news: All that life experience contributes to the course in two valuable ways. Out front, sitting in the seats, learners’ knowledge enriches the course with great ideas, useful experiences, and smart solutions. Up front, the instructor's life experience enhances subject matter expertise and provides powerful stories.

There’s bad news, too: For both learners and instructors, the urge to share all that wealth of experience can take the course off topic and waste a lot of time. Extended war stories are great in the bar. In a course those same stories can wreak havoc on the planned timeline and destroy learners’ trust by cheating them out of getting all the course content they came for.

It's a tough line to walk, to balance wanting to involve everyone and to keep from involving any individuals too much. (There's a reason our dialogue guidelines emphasize brevity!)

And while handling a “talkaholic” participant with tact is tough, taming the talkaholic in yourself-the-trainer is tougher. Unfamiliar with the term? Lenn Millbower, a training thought leader, invented it to discuss 8 possible causes for the addiction of talkaholism among instructors. Instructors, consider if any of these sound like your training style:

  • I have a passion to share my expertise.
  • I find it easy to take center stage and shine in the limelight.
  • I can maintain more control when I'm doing most of the talking.
  • Lecture is the best way to deliver information in limited time.
  • I go beyond the topic in my stories to keep things interesting.
  • When I don't have time to rehearse, I'm great at winging it.
  • My stories keep it fresh so I don't get bored teaching the same material.
  • Whoever has organized the learning event demands a lecture-heavy presentation.

Only you can tell if one or more of these tendencies takes you into the danger zone. You’re a trainer because of your expertise, your experience and your passion. The trick is to be smart about how much of your expertise, experience and passion to bring to your course. A great story well-told anchors your learning point in their minds. A great story over-told slows down the learning momentum and buries your point in surplus detail.