Anyone who has ever had to give a presentation, teach or lead a workshop… knows how difficult it can be to deliver your message AND have it received by the most hardened species of all, adult learners. Here are the five things you must know about adult learning:
Jiggle the mouse
Adults can only pay attention to one stimulus for about 20 minutes at a time before they start to tuning out. Just like your computer falls asleep after disuse, so do our brains and we need to jiggle the mouse to wake it up. Try switching your presentation style: move from delivering a lecture to asking questions about the content, insert a video or get the participants up and moving in an activity. Even something as simple as moving around the room as you are talking will encourage participants to follow you with their eyes, ears and bodies, unwittingly “jiggling their mouse”.
Effects of aging
Remember cranking the volume on your cassette player back in the day and rocking out? Now you are yelling at your kids to turn Justin Bieber down, because you’re just about ready to murder somebody? Whether we want to admit it or not — as we age our eyesight and hearing abilities decline. We may not be able to see visuals as well as we once could, and external noises become increasingly bothersome (what?!?). Visual aids should be created using a large, legible font and contrasting colours. To protect your audience’s ears, block out any outside noise that could be a distraction (like closing doors or AV feedback). Remember to engage your participants by using multiple styles of learning (visual, audio, reading, writing and kinaesthetic) within your presentation and appeal to all five senses.
Been there done that
With years of life experience behind us we all have a different perception and interpretation of the information presented to us. Our life experience plays a role in how we absorb and learn new things. The most effective presentations use storytelling and emotion to create a memorable experience. Ask your participants to tell you stories that relate to the content and weave your main messages through what they have to say. By pulling from participants’ life experiences you show them respect, involve them and enhance their learning experience. The more your participants talk, and less you yammer on, directly influences the amount of information they will remember when they walk out of the room.
Passive learning = Passive remembering
The state in which we learn is the same state in which we will remember: passive learning equals passive remembering. Yet, we have been taught since we were children to sit in our desks lined in rows, be quiet and listen while the teacher talks. Adults need more movement than children to build energy, so get your participants up and moving. Try teaching your material through games, role playing (nothing too kinky), scavenger hunt or anything else that gets the blood moving. If you do this they will think back to your content and be energized instead of ready for a nap.
Life doesn’t stop
The kids are sick, your inbox is piling up, and the car needs an oil change. Life doesn’t stop for workshops or education. Keep in mind that even if your participants have the best intentions their focus might still be on something else happening outside of the classroom. Make your room a safe place to be by creating agreements like: cell phones can stay on but please leave the room to take a call. Give lots of time for assignments or exam due dates. Exercise your patience with those who arrive late, leave early or disappear for long periods of time. At the same time, ensure you are clear about what respect looks like for the rest of the people in the room. Have participants create classroom agreements at the beginning of your session and hold each other accountable. You are there to help guide and influence them, not police the room.
Next time you are preparing to give a presentation think about how you can incorporate these five tips to engage adult learners and watch as more of your content lands than ever before.