What Makes Training Great?

It isn’t easy to create effective learning events. If it were easy, there would be little need for instructional designers—everyone would build their own learning events. So, your Word of the Day is andragogy, which was popularized by Malcolm Knowles in The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (Knowles 1984).

What do you already know of andragogy? The term refers to the art and science of teaching adults, whose needs differ in many (but not all) ways from children’s. Pedagogy, by distinction, relates to instructing children. Here are six characteristics of adult learners that Knowles noted in his work:

  • Adults need to know why learning something is important before they learn it.
  • Adults have a concept of self and do not like others imposing their wills on them.
  • Adults have a wealth of knowledge and experience and want that knowledge to be recognized.
  • Adults open up to learning when they think that the learning will help them with real problems.
  • Adults want to know how the learning will help them immediately.
  • Adults learn in response to internal (versus external) motivations.

Please read that list again. You want to be able to recite these characteristics. You also want to ensure your designs—or deliveries—honor them.

It is not enough to know the characteristics; you need to act on them as well. What will these six points cause you to do differently going forward? If you are not sure how to answer that question right now, answer it anyway… and only continue reading after you have.

Thank you for your active participation! Now, compare your list to these design actions:

  • Provide learners with practical instruction instead of theoretical concepts.
  • Center instruction on tools that minimize participants’ pain points.
  • Ensure course content is immediately applicable.
  • Build processes that draw out learners’ existing knowledge base.
  • Integrate multiple interactive methods, including group learning, video, case studies, brainstorming, simulations, quizzes, independent reflection, role plays, and so on.
  • Choose activity over lecture.
  • Choose self-directed activity over highly prescribed, “follow me”-type activity.
  • Create opportunities for learners to experiment.
  • Provide opportunities for learners to succeed.
  • Allow sufficient time to debrief activities.
  • Provide specific feedback to learners.

Which of these are you currently doing? Are you performing them as well as possible? Which have been blind spots for you? How will you do things differently for your next course design based on this information?

To make your training great, consider attending the upcoming ATD certificate program organised by Informa:

ATD Train the Trainer

Editor’s note: This is adapted from Same Training, Half the Time, available on Amazon.


This article originally appeared on ATD here.


About the Author: Kimberly Devlin
With her combined passions for effective communication and relevant workplace learning, Kimberly’s focus is always on providing direct, complete, and compelling deliverables. In the training room, her focus is on supporting each learner in meeting their specific learning goals. She achieves this, in part, through engaging and interactive learning that is purpose-driven, enjoyable, and immediately applicable as well as sharing real-world examples and stories.