Adult Learning Quick Takes: Task-Oriented

Adult Learning Quick Takes: Task-Oriented

We're at the end of our adult learning foundations series focusing on the acronym "ADULT." Today, T:

Adults are TASK-ORIENTED. Their patience for passive listening is limited. After absorbing new information and storing it in short-term memory, they’re ready to actively do something with it. When they actively engage new material it links up in the brain with previous knowledge and it’s stored in long-term memory. That’s when the learning takes place.

Have you noticed the “tasks” in this series of articles? Each adult learning point has challenged you to take some action, usually asking you to think, reflect or notice something.

“All learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” -Albert Einstein

How would you apply this to a course without adding more activities and exercises? Think small: use a mini-exercise, brief mental activity or thought experiment. Einstein was famous for his thought experiments. You can throw a quick thought experiment into the mix simply by reframing a concept into a question that triggers your learners’ mental activity.

Mental activities like noticing, reflecting, considering and comparing are just as valuable as sharing, dialoguing and physically active exercises. And they take a lot less time. You can pull out your playful side and try “gaming” your learning point so that the learners' brains are challenged to pounce on it with an I-can-figure-this-out attitude. Try it and see if it doesn’t boost the engagement level.

Here are some specific strategies you might use:

Ask a question. Instead of stating the learning point, reframe it as a question. You will pique their curiosity, get them thinking about how the point applies in their own situations and redirect their brains to active reflection instead of passive listening. Whether or not you ask them to verbalize their answers is up to you.

  • “For how many of you does this ring true?” (Create a realistic situation involving your point.)
  • “What if you ...” (Pose a hypothetical example based on your point.)
  • “Have you had this problem?” (State some negative consequences you’ll go on to explore or solve.)

Pull the content out of them. Questions like “What do you already know about ...?” or “There are 3 important things to know about [the topic]—what do you think they are?” Then use their words and ideas when explaining the concept. You’ll find them more interested and attentive when their 2 cents worth becomes part of your presentation. Bonus: you’ll discover what they already know about the subject and be able to refine your delivery to hit more of their hot buttons.

We often design courses to include idea exchanges among participants. Why? Not only do people love to solve problems, we get particularly engaged when it comes to other people’s problems. How often have you found it easier to come up with solutions for others than for yourself? There’s solid research on this phenomenon. According to a recent study, ”...we’re more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of strangers than for ourselves.”

Interactive debrief: rethink the standard Q&A session as Q&D—questions and dialogue. Instead of answering questions yourself, draw on participants’ experience: “Who can respond to that question?” When you invite multiple points of view, the “right answer” takes a back seat to a dialogue of rich, real world examples.

What else have you tried or experienced?