Coaching Perspectives - 2. Seven Simple Steps to More Effective Learning

In the second article in her six-part series, An Edge for You's Annette Reissfelder outlines some principles for acquiring new skills

The principles below, for facilitating learning, are relevant for every professional and manager –- and especially those who actually make decisions about training and facilitation in their companies. Feel free to tell me your experiences.

Firstly, let's see how learning is different for an adult -- I believe that adults are self-directing, and accept responsibility for their own lives. As an adult, being self-directed usually becomes an important component of our self-concept. This is obviously reflected in how -- and what –- we want to learn... :-)

Learning is the process of acquiring new skills, attitudes, and knowledge. All learning results in change. The benchmark of effectiveness here is not just the acquisition, but above all the use of the new knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Facilitation is the art of bringing the person and the act of learning together -- helping people learn through self-discovery. It involves techniques that help people learn to share knowledge and experiences with each other. I strongly encourage everybody to be the facilitator of their own learning –- just by respecting and applying the principles below.

The Seven Principles of Adult Learning

1. Learner readiness is critical to success.

Without learner readiness, there is no learning. Resistance needs to be discussed openly so that it can be addressed. One of the indicators of the adult readiness to learn is when adults face situations requiring them to use new knowledge, skills, or abilities. Timing can be an important consideration, ideally positioning the content as a requirement for success in the near future. It's also important to provide follow-up and coaching at the right time.

Action Point - Ask Yourself: Why on earth do I want to know -- and improve?

2. Adults learn best when they're actively participating in the learning rather than being passive recipients.

People learn by doing. In a learning environment, minimize time spent on presentations and maximize the time spent in practice and application through case studies, peer presentations, and so forth. People also like and need to know how they're doing -- they want and need feedback.

Action Point - Ask Yourself: What task can I create for myself where this new learning will make an immediate difference?

3. Adult learners are responsible for their own learning and are capable of self-direction.

Although adults need some structure, they resist being told what to do. Engaging in a process of inquiry and decision making, and not just "receiving" information or knowledge, is vital here. The purpose and the instructions must always be clear, and people must have latitude to actually complete the activity.

Action Point - Ask Yourself: How will I test this input? How can I apply this now and feed the results back to others? Next week?

4. Making mistakes is how adults learn.

While success motivates adults and makes them want to learn more, they tend to remember mistakes and want to learn how to correct them. Facilitators must allow learners to try new things, to make mistakes, and to learn from them. A safe environment for trial and error must be created. Likewise, the facilitator must be sure the successes are reinforced and that the learners capture those lessons learned.

Action Point - Ask Yourself: How can I benefit from this mistake, and use it as valuable feedback on how I learn – and what doesn’t seem to work well with me?

5. Adults learn by connecting new information with what they already know.

It is the building-block idea, of moving from the known to the unknown. Because people come with different backgrounds, if you're a facilitator to several people, you must first discover what each person knows and then build on that. Experience is a rich resource for adult learning. In any group of adults, there's a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. The facilitator can leverage the different experiences for a richer learning experience through facilitative discussions, case studies, simulations, and the like. The downside to experience is that the adult learner brings a set of presuppositions, biases, and bad habits that can inhibit learning. The facilitator must help learners examine these areas and replace them with new ideas, concepts, and perspectives.

Action Point - Ask Yourself: What group setting can I create for myself where I can benefit from other people knowing other things about my topic of interest/learning? What do I bring to the group?

6. Although adult learners use all their senses, individuals usually have a dominant or preferred sense upon which they rely for learning new things.

Learning facilitation typically addresses the senses of sight (visual), hearing (auditory), and touch (kinesthetic).

Visual learners must interact with and apply content in a visual way: as much as possible, they must see what they are learning. This need can be met in a variety of ways, from graphics to the printed page.

Auditory learners must interact with and apply new learning through listening and speaking. This can be achieved by providing auditory versions of that content -- as a lecture, for instance, or as music -- and by providing multiple opportunities for learners to hear and speak to each other.

Kinesthetic learners must interact with and apply new learning in a physical way.

An obvious way to meet this need it to provide hands-on practice, offering ways for learners to interact with content physically -- from note-taking to drawing pictures. Effective facilitators use a variety of sensory input because that which isn't clear when received via one sense often crystallizes when received through another. You can just as easily use these principles yourself to help make the most of learned content.

Action Point - Ask Yourself: In which other ways can I interact with this content so that it will stick?

7. Less is More

Effective facilitators take complex or new material and organize it in a simple way, so that people can easily understand and apply new information and skills.

Some people feel a need to cram all the content they can into a speech, course, or session; this very practice inhibits learning. Content should directly align with specific learning objectives; other content should simply not be included at all.

Action Point - Ask Yourself: What is the big picture? If I could just use one principle and apply it diligently, what would it be? What would be my second choice –- and can I combine the two? How?

Coaching Perspectives

1. To Learn or Not to Learn

2. Seven Simple Ways to More Effective Learning

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