Good learning design, generally speaking, covers the necessary steps and activities for learning to take place. It’s that simple, right?
A point of debate in the world of learning design is if good learning design is applicable to all, no matter the age. On some levels it is. On other levels it isn’t. The format it comes in plays a big factor.
What makes learning design for adults uniquely different from kids? In a comical sense, it’s our baggage. That’s right, it’s all the experiences, good and bad, that we come to the table with.
However, baggage has a negative connotation and doesn’t set the stage with the growth mindset model to approach the learner with. For the sake of argument, and functionality, we like to think of learners entering with a backpack of experiences and knowledge.
Address the Backpack
Baggage is not the issue when adult learners show up to learn. More or less, it is a backpack that is filled full of life experiences and lots of knowledge–all of which informs who we are and how we see the world. When working with adults, it’s a sound practice to approach the learning experience with the backpack in mind.
Here are a few suggestions on how to build that into the learning experience.
Learning from Experience: Construct a learning experience that starts with a familiar situation from their work context, and then ask them to apply the new knowledge to that scenario. It creates a comfortable space for the learner to enter with their current skill set in hand.
Reflection Time: Beliefs and behaviors do not change after a one-hour workshop. Be intentional about spiraling back to concepts through formal and informal ways. Call it microlearning, bite-sized PD, or agile learning. Whatever you decide, make sure it happens so new knowledge structures and behavior patterns have the space to grow. This takes lots of reflection by the learner.
Safe Practice: Adults need to practice in multiple ways. Making mistakes is embarrassing and no one wants to come off as unintelligent or a slow learner. Remedy this by creating a safe environment for practice, coaching, and more practice. We find it’s helpful to establish that you value who your participants are and the backpack of experiences they show up with. Providing a safe space to reflect and practice is a way to show you value them.
For those who plan and deliver in-house PD, give yourself grace as you try these suggestions. Be ready to make mistakes, iterate your design, and revamp your approach to match the learner’s experience.
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Ross Herdina, Co-Founder, Agile Ideas Leadership