Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learners

Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learners

Anyone who has been in the business world for a period of time has likely received instruction on how to effectively communicate with others through the use of nonverbal cues. By consciously controlling eye, facial, hand gestures and other body movements, you can enhance and support verbal messages while building more effective interpersonal relationships with customers and others. The same is true between trainers, facilitators,  adult educators and adult learners in a classroom environment.

Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learners by The Creative Trainer

Nonverbal communication or body language has been studied for centuries in an effort to better understand and extract true meaning from what someone is sharing nonverbally as they speak. Unfortunately, human behavior is not pure science and cannot be measured with complete accuracy. This is why it is crucial for anyone engaged in sharing information in an adult learning environment to recognize the power of nonverbal cues and use them effectively to engage learners while better managing the interactions that occur in an adult learning environment. Through the use of effective classroom management techniques and strategies, you can potentially enhance learning outcomes in training sessions or other adult learning environments

The following are some nonverbal communication strategies and techniques that might aid you in increasing your effectiveness in the classroom.

Use eye contact effectively.

There is no one rule of how to effectively make and hold Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learnerseye contact with another person. Many factors, such as the cultural background, education, gender, age, and other similar personal elements, affect the type and duration of eye contact that might be useful. In the United States and other westernized countries, 3-5 seconds is often comfortable for one to maintain eye contact.

After that, you should glance away or look at something else before returning your gaze to someone during a general conversation. Such contact lets the person know to whom you are speaking, potentially helps you recapture their attention and can send a message of interest for what they are saying. On the other hand, staring can make someone feel uncomfortable and can potentially be a sign of disrespect or control in their mind. Either could potentially cause them to shut down or form a negative opinion of you.

Hand gestures.

Hand and arm gestures might be used to emphasize key points, to show openness (e.g. spreading arms in a gesture that indicates that you welcome comments or input following something you said) or to gesture to something or someone. In the latter Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult Learnerscase, it is better to use an open hand (e.g. fingers extended and joined with the thumb along with forefinger) when inviting someone to comment or refer to a specific person. This is much less potentially offensive or accusatory than pointing with a finger or objects.

Keep in mind that many hand gestures (e.g. “V” to indicate peace or victory or an “O” formed by joining the thumb and forefinger) have different meanings when dealing with people from various cultures. In some instances, vulgar connotations exist for similar hand and finger gestures.


When you wish to better control the behavior of learners in a classroom, you might apply movement as a strategy. For example, if you have two participants quietly chatting during your presentation of information or someone who is typing a text message or searching the Internet during class.

Using Nonverbal Communication Cues with Adult LearnersIn these instances, continue to talk to all learners as you casually walk toward the offender(s). Close the personal space between you and them, then make eye contact. This lets them know nonverbally that you are aware of their behavior, they need to stop and refocus, and that others likely now realize what they are doing. Normally, this will correct the inappropriate behavior on their part. If they later continue or repeat the behavior, move toward them and casually sit on the edge of their desk/table, make eye contact from a closer distance and possibly ask an open-ended question like “What do you think of what I just said?” Chances are they won’t have a clue how to respond and will be embarrassed.

There are many other nonverbal communication techniques that you might consider. You might want to search the topic on the Internet and take a look at The Creative Training Idea Book: Inspired Tips and Techniques for Engaging and Effective Learning. By continually trying to improve your presentation and training skills, you can help ensure that your training delivery results in the best possible learning outcomes.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

Learner engagement is a basic tenet of adult learning that is supported by brain-based learning research. By encouraging participant involvement in a training or educational setting, you increase the potential that learning will occur and that they might actually use what they experience later.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

You can encourage maximum involvement of your training participants or learners by creatively grouping them and then asking for volunteers to take on the roles of scribes (note-takers) and group or team leaders during small group training activities or discussions. This strategy also provides an opportunity to recognize their initiative and reward volunteers with small incentive prizes (e.g. candy, toys, or other objects related to the program topic of the theme).

By providing extrinsic rewards and supporting positive behavior you can potentially encourage involvement by other learners in future group activities. However, like anything else, there is a potential downside in asking for volunteers. That is some people volunteer more than others because they are more extroverted or in order to receive prizes. The key is to integrate rewards appropriately and not make it into a competition to see who can get the most.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning & Training Author

To avoid a small number of participants from dominating and volunteering continuously, consider a fun, random system for selection. Just be conscious of the method you use for volunteer selection. Avoid using physical characteristics like body size, gender, hair or eye color, or other such factors since these could be perceived as discrimination or at least omission or favoritism by some participants as criteria for selection.

One goal of selecting volunteers is to engage as many different learners as possible. This helps everyone take ownership of the session content and disseminates rewards over a larger portion of the participant population.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

Think creatively and use a variety of techniques for selecting your volunteers rather than sticking with old standby formats like “count off from 1-5” or similar boring strategies. Some potential techniques for random designation are to assign participants based on the following. Be prepared to use several techniques in the event of ties.

  • Person whose birthday is closest to but not past the date of the session being held.
  • Person with the most (whatever) (e.g. color blue, jewelry, metal) on their body.
  • Person whose has been with their organization the longest/shortest period of time.
  • Person who has most/least siblings.
  • Person who traveled farthest/least distance to get to the session.
  • Person with the most/fewest number of pets.
  • Person with decorative metal on their shoes.
  • Person who arrived home earliest on their last day at work.
  • Person who participated in an athletic event over the past weekend.
  • Person with the most/least change in their pocket or purse.
  • Person who has had the most cups of coffee or tea, sodas, or glasses of juice/water since arriving at the session.
  • Person with the most/least letters in their first/last name.
  • Person born in the city/state/country in which the session is being conducted.
  • Person who has attended another professional development event (e.g. presentation, workshop, webinar, college class, or podcast) on-site or online within the past six weeks.
  • Placing props randomly at some participant locations prior to the start of the program (e.g. toy police officers badge, gavel, or another symbol of authority.
  • Placing a special colored item related to the program topic, that is different from those of other participants (e.g. themed shape eraser; small animal or cartoon character).
  • Placing colored dots or special stickers (e.g. colored smiley face stickers) randomly on nametags or name tents prior to a session start.
  • Rolling a foam die or color cube at each table.

Creatively Selecting Small Group Leaders in Training

No matter what approach you take to getting people involved in the learning process, the key is to make it quick, fun, and related to your program topic. Engage your learners mentally and physically throughout your sessions and you will potentially be rewarded with higher levels of attention, learning, and satisfaction.

For additional creative ideas and brain-based learning strategies, get a copy of The Creative Training Idea Book: Inspired Tips and Techniques for Engaging and Effective Learning, Creative Learning: Activities and Games That Really Engage Learners, Training Workshop Essentials: Designing, Developing and Delivering Learning Events That Get Results, and Energize Your Training: Creative Techniques to Engage Learners.