Ways to Engage Adult Learners Before Training Begins
Have you ever walked into a learning session, meeting or adult academic classroom and felt like you were in the Twilight Zone? Other zombies like you meandered around, seeking guidance. They might have moved toward refreshments, searched for a seat among the dozens available, or sat bashfully looking at their smartphone or flipping through handouts provided on tables. It is almost as if they have reverted back to their childhood classroom in which they are waiting for permission before saying anything or getting involved. This does not need to occur if you tap into brain-based learning research about how the brain processes information. There are many ways to engage adult learners before training begins. You just have to tap into YOUR brain and come up with creative training strategies to kick-start your learner’s brains.
Start by setting the tone of the classroom to match the session content that you will facilitate. In doing this, keep in mind that training time is precious. Adult learners are also usually overwhelmed in their lives and do not want to feel that they are wasting valuable time. Everything that you use, do, say, or have your adult learners do should focus on one thing – the achievement of the session learning objectives.
To create a valuable learning experience for your session attendees, build in ways to engage everyone and get them to start thinking about session content before the program even begins. You can get them tuned in to the session topic by subconsciously planting seeds around the room related to it. Also, look for ways to stimulate their brain neurons. Do so by incorporating environmental elements that neuroscientists and brain-based learning researchers have discovered can potentially contribute to a more meaningful learning experience. These elements, such as, include light, sound, color, motion, novelty, fun, and engagement.
The following are three easy ways to engage adult learners before training begins.
Use content-related music. Numerous studies identify ways that music impacts the brain and influences memory formation. Music is a powerful stimulus and taps into emotions. Think of your own memories and experiences. When you hear certain songs, do you reflect on past experiences? Can you recall when you first heard a given song? Do you remember your location, what you were doing and who you were with? The same thing can happen if you choose the right music in your classroom. Some research indicates a higher level of recall when you associate information and activities with a specific song or type of music.
You can contribute to the theme of a session by selecting songs or lyric themes that relate to program content. For example, years ago, I facilitated a time management session. I searched for songs that had the theme of time in the title or in the lyrics (e.g. Time in a bottle, Time has come today, Time of the season, and It’s a five o’clock world). This music was playing as learners arrived and during breaks. In my opening remarks, I referenced the music and brought about a discussion of the role that time plays in the workplace and the world. My intent was to create an environment in which time was on the minds of the learners. By doing this, I pulled from my toolbox of ways to engage adult learners in order to help energize and reinforce the learning environment.
In-class assessment activity. One thing that I often do in my sessions to gather information about my learners is to conduct a visual assessment activity. I do this to gather information about them, their needs and, most importantly, to engage them as soon as they enter the room. To accomplish this, I either post a flip chart or prepare a “Welcome” handout on colorful paper that includes instructions for the activity (see sample to the left).
Next, I prepare a series of flip chart sheets that I post on the wall and put water-based flip chart markers (so they do not bleed through and damage walls) on a chair below each page in advance. I also put a blank sheet of paper behind each flip chart page to further help protect the walls. On each sheet is a different closed-end question related to the session topic. For example, in a train-the-trainer program, I have charts like the ones below.
Further, I tally the results for each page before starting the session. I can refer to the totals in my opening remarks and relate the questions to content that we will cover in the session.
Create a “fun” or festive environment. Like children, most adults like to have a bit of fun when they are performing tasks. You can help address this desire by using a variety of sensory stimuli to your training room. In addition to upbeat music playing as learners enter, I often use an assortment of colorful and functional props in my training sessions. For example, I use a variety of different colored balloons on walls with a small strip of paper that has a different key term or concept from the session inside each balloon. When I am ready to conduct an interim or final content review, I ask for volunteers to retrieve and pop these. They then locate their paper strip and, in turn, read their term or concept to the group. Volunteers can raise their hand or stand to provide a definition or explanation for each term or concept. Rewards are given to all volunteers. This simple activity reinforces material covered, adds fun, movement, learner engagement, sound (as balloons burst), incentives, and color to the session.
If you want more creative training ideas and ways to engage adult learners before training begins or during an adult learning session, search this blog for learner engagement, brain based learning, creative training ideas and related terms. Also, check out The Creative Training Idea Book: Inspired Tips and Techniques for Engaging and Effective Learning and Energize Your Training: Creative Techniques that Engage Learners.
Do you have creative ideas or ways to engage adult learners in your classrooms that might benefit other readers? Please share them in the comments section.