Bespoke & Balanced

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Linking Learning Design to Adult Learning

The importance of a customized, flexible approach to adult learning cannot be understated. Which is why this idea is the cornerstone of ID9 Intelligent Design

Adult Learners: Individual Learning Preferences

“It’s important for participants and organizations to stretch their idea of what it means to learn.” Catherine Mattiske

A customized and balanced approach to learning

Not everyone learns the same things in the same way.

Not all participants in an adult learning environment need to learn the same materials in the same way, even when they are in the same training room, virtual, digital or eLearning program. Given this, the suggestion to vary training activities would seem obvious, but too often even the best trainers can fall into habitual ways of training certain topics that don’t work at an optimum level for all participants.

The reliance on just a few training approaches may be a combination of trainer ‘comfort’ and organizational expectations and norms.

Often training has come to represent a specific method that is reminiscent of bygone school-days, for example mini-lectures and hands-on activities. When trainers challenge those notions and vary the structure of the learning environment and the methods they use to train, participants and organizations sometimes feel lost or become defensive of these ‘new ways’.

As an example, the ID9 Custom Design team included a very simple metacognitive reflection review at the end of a virtual training session.  In this two minute review activity participants were asked to write their key learnings into their participant guide and then share their top takeaway into chat.  Our client’s learning and development team were anxious that no one would participate and that this was a completely new idea.  Historically for this organization, learning was simply presentation devoid of interaction, apart from the classic ‘Are there any questions,’ to which generally there never are.  We encouraged the facilitation team to do the activity and after a few seconds participants started to populate the chat box with their top takeaways. 

It’s important for participants and organizations to stretch their idea of what it means to learn, even at the most fundamental level.

Some participants who enter corporate training programs are concerned about the formality of the learning environment, nervous that they may be ‘tested’, worried about other participants in their group, or have concerns about their own academic skills and abilities. By providing learning in many different formats, providing a supportive environment and building on what they already know will help participants see that their learning skills are already in place and will help them face the challenges of the new skills and knowledge with confidence.

“It is the participant’s responsibility to learn and the  trainer’s responsibility to create an environment in which learning can take place.” Catherine Mattiske

Who’s responsible?

At the heart of our learning philosophy is the question “who is responsible for learning, the trainer, the organization or the participant?” It has become widely accepted that for adult learning  the responsibility should lie firmly with the participant and yet the behavior of the trainer in the classroom and managers before, during and after the course often mitigates against this. Trainers often spend more than half of their training time ‘informing’ participants (via mini-lectures) to the detriment of the participant’s active involvement and effective learning.  Also, we must not underplay the significance of the participant’s manager in the accountability equation for learning. Modern, progressive learning and development teams partner with managers, before, during and after the program to drive learning application and provide support.

Trainers without a formal training background or understanding of adult learning styles often believe that by contributing more themselves they are helping their participants to learn. However, participants retain more after the course and apply skills more effectively in the workplace if they have been actively, rather than passively, involved in the learning process.

Clearly, regardless of the subject matter, it is a balanced approach to trainer/participant participation that will reap the greatest benefits.

It is the participant’s responsibility to learn and the trainer’s responsibility to create an environment in which learning can take take place. Then it is the manager’s responsibility to be accountable to support the participant to create an environment where participants are able to apply what they have learned to their job.

Long before the training program begins it is the responsibility of  the instructional learning designer to create a balanced training program that caters for the various adult learning styles to set participants up for learning success: that is, to have the motivation and ability to change their behavior.

“The instructional designer should incorporate a mix of all elements of these introductory principles for each training topic  or training session.”

Further Information

For further information on adult learning please refer to the series of books written by Catherine Mattiske focused on Adult Learning – – Understanding the ways adults learn

  • Adult Learning Principles 1
  • Adult Learning Principles 2
  • Adult Learning Principles 3

Or sign-up today for the best selling eLearning Program Adult Learning Principles 1.