Adult Learning Principles - Become a Better Trainer with Alexander Trefney

adult learning adult learning principles banking training corporate training kerns 6 step model knowles 6 assumptions malcolm knowles Feb 07, 2023
Adult Principles by Host of The Personality Movement Podcast a Top 15% Shared Globally Podcast on Spotify in 2022!

Are you a trainer, coach or leader? Do you want to transfer useful information as effectively as possible while inspiring and engaging every adult learner? Then this is for you!

I have over 15 years experience with corporate training and development. In this article I'll give you some clear principles to follow and tips to become a better trainer. I touch on Malcolm Knowles 6 Assumptions and Kern's 6 Step Model for development plus a few best practices. I am in the process of rebuilding my physical material for personal and corporate development. I was what you would call old school and lost all of my hard copy material and manuals in a fire about a year ago. This has led me to recreate/dial-in my own development and evaluation systems I used in the past. I am not quite done with my adult learning presentation or new hard copies but wanted to download some of my personal experience here to help me unpack new approaches for future development. Hopefully this benefits you as much as it has me!

I will review Adult Learning Principles to help you when developing and administering training in a corporate setting or in any type of adult learning situation. I'm going to give you some basics to help you become a better trainer or presenter. If you can be better, you can more effectively connect with more students. You can transfer more information and knowledge easier and more effectively, and you can help have a positive impact wherever you are, whatever you're doing. Training, coaching or advanced education requires a certain level of intelligent development. When done correctly each student receives positive self-growth because they'll get to learn something new. Give them the why and you're going to engage them the right way. I've been going over a lot of different information when it comes to corporate training and corporate training development as well as coaching development. I love updating my systems for teaching different coaches and trainers. I mostly focus on how to administer training more effectively so they can genuinely connect with the student to attain better results overall. One particular educator always comes to mind. His name is Malcolm Knowles and he had 6 Assumptions when it came to the development or administering effective adult learning systems.

1. Need to know why

2. Self Directing Aspects

3. Learners with Greater Volume and Quality of Experience 

4. Only want to learn when they "need to know"

5. Problem Solving Approach

6. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations

The first assumption is that adults will only learn something if they know why they need to learn it. They need to know why or else they're not going to engage with any type of learning at all. As an adult you recognize that you only have so much energy. You only have so much time. So adults only like to learn when they know why they need to know why they need to learn something new.

The second assumption from Malcolm Knowles is that as an adult we want to be self-directing. Self-directing is so important because it's a huge aspect of being an adult. Being in control of your life and your destiny with as much power as you can have makes you feel in charge. When it comes to corporate training sometimes that can be difficult because you want to have a clear focus. You want to have a clear direction for the adult learners. You have to let them take over when it comes to direction on an individual basis for certain aspects of the training. That can be a challenge for some new trainers. It can be difficult because they wanted to maintain that control so they can go through the necessary information in the course or in the material that they're presenting. Any adult group can be a little difficult for new trainers.

The third assumption from Malcolm is that adults have a greater volume and quality of experience in life then younger students, so they have more perspective. They have more emotional baggage. They have more good habits. They have trauma response. They have positive memories. They have bad habits. They have false information that they remember. . Some are highly educated. Some of them are extremely high level when it comes to areas of expertise. Some are doctors, some are leaders in their field. Sometimes you don't know who you are training and with an adult learner you don't know how many times they've reinvented themselves. That's another point I'm going to touch on, knowing your audience.

The fourth assumption from Malcolm Knowles is that most adults only want to learn something if they experience a situation where they need to know it. If they need to know this information to be more effective in their in their daily life for job or what they're working on then they will pay attention. If they feel the information pertains to them they will engage. if that's the case, then that's going to activate an adult learner from the start because they're going to want to really start to take action and that kind of bleeds into the next aspect of the six assumptions.

The fifth assumption is that adults usually enter into a learning experience with a problem solving attitude. Knowles references that they enter into it with a task oriented type of perspective, and this is one area where I kind of deviate from Knowles because I don't necessarily think that all adults approach learning with a task perspective because I myself, don't. I am a people oriented individual and when I enter into a learning environment, I'm excited to see what's going on. I'm excited to see who's there. Who's around and what we're going to be learning. How it's going to help, if it's going to make me seem more intelligent in the workplace.  Is it going to help me look better to my clients or to my customers? If it's going to help me serve my customers better then I'm in.  There's a lot of aspects that I consider that aren't really task oriented at all. They're connecting with other people and so this is where I kind of deviate. I understand what he means by problem solving because as an adult you learn that  you can move through what you're presented with. You work through challenges in a systematic type of fashion and you can get through them. This too shall pass! You've had to do things you don't want to do and do courses and classes that you didn't want to do. You just made yourself go through it and do it.  It may look like it's task oriented but you have to go back to the motivation. You can't just judge an action and determine task or people motivation. A task oriented individual is motivated to go through and complete the learning because they like going through in a systematic way completing a task. People oriented individuals might like going through the training because it'll make them feel better about themselves. They will get to interact with others and have fun. It'll make them feel good internally.  More people oriented enjoy a personal sense of positive growth or development that makes them appear better externally. Again I do deviate slightly on the 5th assumption regards to mentioning task orientation dominance. I think it's more approached as a problem solving focus with task or people orientation. In public settings people orientation statistically is more prevalent. So you have to understand that more people are going to expect a people oriented type of approach when being given training. They know there's going to be somebody talking. They know that somebody's may call on them and they know they may have to speak up in front of the class at some point. They know that there's going to be a people oriented aspect and that they are expected to participate. That's how life works. More people tend to lean towards people orientation rather than task orientation because they're trying to connect and communicate.

His sixth assumption is that adults are motivated, intrinsically and extrinsically. They're motivated by getting a positive reward or avoiding a negative. Can they avoid punishment by learning something new? Will they feel a personal sense of accomplishment?

One of my favorite aspects to develop in corporate training is training the trainer or coach. I love to create systems that empower trainers to connect with more students and transfer information more easily! I've always used these 6 assumptions to put myself in the right frame of mind and brainstorm. How do I need to approach this in order to genuinely connect with these learners? That's really what it's about. It's not, I know more than you. Because, again, you don't always know your audience. It's not who is right it's what is right. You can't position yourself as the all-knowing trainer. That's a very dangerous thing to do. You really have to approach training humbly and try to genuinely connect with your adult students and understand that you're just trying to transfer information that you have collected over to them. It's not even information that you've created. It's information collected in order for them to use and apply right away and see positive results. Use these six assumptions, it'll make a big difference for you.

**If you were reading on LinkedIn this is where you left off!


As a Trainer there can be difficulties when it comes to credibility or being able to control the room. I've worked with crowds of 10 people to 200 people and you know sometimes it can be overwhelming. It can feel like it's you against the world. You have five or 10 different conversations going and when you get in the groups of 100 plus you can have you know 20 plus different conversations. It can be difficult if you don't have the right tools and one of those tools is just a frame of mind and a thought process. You have to convey your level of experience to any adult learner. They want to know that you have at least some type of personal knowledge on what you're talking about. That you have some type of experience. Really highlight your expertise. Each trainer, each coach, each manager and each individual within an organization has an expertise that no one else has. Some people have multiple areas of expertise that nobody has within the company and that's why they're so valuable to respect what you're saying and truly actively listen to what you're saying. You have to show them that you have a certain level of expertise. You must speak with conviction! You have to really be confident, you have to control the room. The most important aspects that I have told all trainers is, you have to mean it and one of the best ways to have conviction and mean what you say when you're training is know your material and know why you're saying what you're saying. Show that you know what's best by your belief in what you are training. If you can really communicate with conviction, you can connect with a lot of adult learners that normally would disconnect or not make an effort to connect. You also have to consider personality types.  Some personality blends don't want to connect and are just looking to complete the training as efficiently as possible. They want to go through it systematically. Take the assessment at the end and be done. You know some of the other aspect are you have to be responsive and adaptive to your audience. That's one of the biggest things as a trainer in an adult learning situation. As a trainer, your class may share some personal expertise or some personal experience. Acknowledge them, even if it is contrary to what you believe, you want to highlight what they're saying and you want to talk about what you're saying with the same level of respect. You don't want to be combative and you don't want to position yourself as the all knowing trainer or coach, that's just a dangerous position to be in. You want to refer to the principles that you're coaching on and and then of course acknowledge that level of expertise in your class. If you are wrong you, you want to admit that you're wrong. Sometimes they won't point it out to you. They'll notice that you've made a mistake and may begin to discount your authority. One of the best things you can do is if you notice a mistake, point it out yourself right away and take responsibility with your audience. It shows that you know you don't think you are all-knowing you, you are just an individual who has some information that you've collected that you're trying to transfer. If you can connect with them genuinely that transfer happens easily and information is clearly communicated. That's really what this is all about. Some of the best ways to be responsive and adaptive and to admit errors during training is facilitating dialogue. Creating an environment that allows for individuals to interject, participate in a conversation, information exchange, experience and expertise exchange is so important. One of the biggest aspects of adult learning is creating an environment where dialogue can take place naturally and easily.

Some additional things that I consider are limiting factors. How is my room setup? How are my materials designed? How are they created? Do they acknowledge and engage each individual personality type? Do they connect with each different type of learner. Limiting factors should always be consider when looking at materials and when looking at your setup. How is the room? Is it an environment that allows for formal and informal collaboration? This is normally missed, informal collaboration is vital to some learners. I don't know about you but I've been to a lot of different events and training seminars. Some of the most powerful times at those events wasn't when I was listening to the speaker necessarily or learning in the environment with a group project or a slide presentation. It was when I was communicating with other individuals on break at the events. You could get something to eat on certain breaks and and it was usually set up to have informal connection and communication areas. That's a powerful aspects of all of those events, learning exponentially increases when you create an informal collaboration environment. When you have people from different offices or the same offices come together you want them sitting next to or working with people that they don't normally work with. It's good to create an environment where people have to build new connections with those that they are learning with because it creates a sense of humility and there's not a lot of background chatter and communication because they're more focused on the information that you're communicating. It helps in an adult learning environment to have people kind of shaken up, just a little bit. It kind of gets them on their toes and brings a bit of authoritative nature to you as the instructor. This is one of those things that you decide. Sometimes it's appropriate. Sometimes it's not, it depends what type of training or coaching it is. Be sure to consider that as one of your limiting factors. 

I want to highlight a simple model of how to create education material. Remember your material can be one of your main limiting factors. I want to reference Kern's Six Step Model. It's very basic but a great beginning. It's a really a good model to use. I encourage you to look deeper into it! 

Kern's 6 Step Model

1. Problem/Need Identification

2. Targeted Needs Assessment

3. Goals and Objective Approach

4. Education Strategies

5. Implementation

6. Evaluation

I hope this gave you something you can use in your day right away and see positive results! I will update this blog post when my presentation is done. This started as a review and prep for an opportunity I am pursuing and I ended up deciding to post this and the video. Thank you! Go out there and Make an Impact!

 Alexander Trefney

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