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8 Adult Learning Principles for DEI Training

Effective program design and training materials aimed at an adult audience should reflect that adults learn differently than younger people. Research by Malcolm Knowles(1) in the 1960s made a clear distinction between instruction aimed at children versus instruction aimed at adults and delved into the art and science of how adults learn.

Here is a look at eight fundamental principles to incorporate when developing training for adults:

  1. Self-Direction and Motivation

Adults are more motivated to learn if they perceive a direct benefit. Programs should communicate their benefits to promote engagement, and the early stages should be intentionally simple to help students get going. Adults will engage in self-directed learning at higher rates than younger learners if the value is well expressed.

  1. Previous Life Experience

Adults use their life experiences to help engage with new ideas. While this can accelerate understanding, there is a risk that an adult learner will bring biases into the process, which can affect their information gathering. Including bias training and basic research methods in programs can ease any impediments to learning.

  1. Results Oriented

Goal setting is essential, and the students’ motivation is key to success. Supportive information and tools stimulate learner engagement with program content. Clarity about how the program connects to adult learners’ work is essential.

  1. Relevance and Value

Information that is relevant to adult learners promotes sustained engagement, particularly in the case of longer-term training programs. Reminders of the big picture value of the program to the company or institution and how it will benefit individuals also serve to maintain learner interest.

  1. Application and Practicality

Adults are attracted to practical solutions and problem-solving. Information readily applied to real-world situations encourages experiential learning, allowing adult learners to draw on their life experiences and integrate new information with their existing body of knowledge.

  1. Role models and Mentorship

Learning by example is an effective method for adult learners, both informally from company leaders and instructors and more formally in mentor/mentee relationships. In larger companies and institutions, encouraging Mentorship within training programs provides valuable opportunities for interdepartmental and cross-team connections. One note: traditionally, mentors have picked mentees who are similar to themselves; the maximum potential of the mentor/mentee model is if the mentors and mentees have diverse experiences. A company’s work culture will benefit from knowledge sharing by senior employees and more recent hires. At its best, mentoring has mutual benefits.

  1. Variety of Learning Modalities

Generally, adults are aware that knowledge may be acquired in various ways, including from new formats. Learner engagement increases with the available options, so that an effective training program will provide a variety of learning formats. Blended (in-person and online) program delivery, plus delivery in other forms, including focused micro-learning clips, YouTube videos, webinars, blogs, etc., allow learners to choose the manner, timing, and pace of accessing program content.

  1. Agency

Adult learners like to feel that they can contribute to training program content and have some control over how they engage with the training from day to day. As noted above, self-directed learning increases with learners’ understanding of program goals and their relevance to the company and themselves. Opportunities to give anonymous feedback increase participants’ feeling of involvement in the program and help shift any perception that the training program has been imposed on them from above.

Our team of experts at CCDI Consulting understands and implements these adult learning principles when designing our D&I training. Whether you are looking for large-scale DEI training or to deepen your understanding of a specific inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) issue in the workplace, we have a solution that can help you elevate your knowledge and approach to DEI.
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