Strategies for Engaging Adult Learners to Enhance Learning Outcomes

Strategies for Engaging Adult Learners - Enhance Learning Outcomes

Strategies for Engaging Adult Learners to Enhance Learning Outcomes

Trainers continually look for strategies for engaging adult learners to enhance learning outcomes. Many have discovered what is termed as brain-based learning in order to create content and environments that help challenge and actively engage their learners.

Scientists and researchers continually explore the human brain and have made some amazing discoveries related to how the human brain functions and reacts to various stimuli.  Neuroscientific research on learning (also referred to as brain-based learning) continues to provide new insights into how a person’s brain best processes information and forms memories for future recall. This is a key element of an adult learning environment. It is crucial for helping adult learners gain, retain, recall and use what they experience, is engagement. That is why anyone involved in adult education, training, and facilitation, or who presents information to adults, should learn how to use strategies for engaging adult learners.

The following are three proven strategies for engaging adult learners that I have used for nearly four decades when training and educating adults.

Encourage risk-taking. Develop and use energizer activities at various points during your session. Design them in a manner that can be either low-risk or high-risk and encourages learners to step outside their comfort zone. For example, in a low-risk activity, you might have participants self-disclose something about their jobs. To take that to a high-risk level, you might ask them to share something that they like and dislike about their job and how they would improve the job if they were in a leadership position. Based on what they disclose, you could encourage them to create a plan to speak with their supervisor in a constructive manner about job enhancement.

Incorporate energizers into your sessions.  Energizer activities are great for helping teach and reinforce session content and for providing a vehicle in which participants take an active role in their learning. Depending on the time of day, session content, physical environment, and other factors, learners need periodic mental and physical breaks if your session lasts more than an hour. The key to effectively using energizers is to connect them to session objectives and not just do something that is fun or that you enjoy. During the activity, encourage learners to think and practice real-world skills that relate to the session topic and help promote the learning outcomes that you are seeking. There are many books, articles and Internet content that provide energizer activities based on a variety of topics.

Use fun activities for reviews. Rather than simply reviewing key concepts covered during your session, engage learners to do that for you. You can do this as an interim review after a section of content has been addressed or as a final session review of all concepts. There is an endless array of possibilities limited only your available time, willingness and creativity. Find activities in books, on the Internet, or create your own. One that I use is a Hot Potato Review. I use a modification of the children’s game that involves music and tossing something. I purchase Hot Potato games to use for concept reviews. I then form teams of six to eight participants and arrange each group in a circle. Next, I creatively select a team leader for each group. When I sound a noisemaker, the leaders squeeze their potato to start the music and tosses it to someone else. This process continues until the music stops. The person holding the hot potato at that time calls out a key concept, term or skill learned in the session. He or she then squeezes the toy to restart the music, tosses it to someone else, and sits down or steps back out of the circle. Once a concept, term, or skill has been mentioned, no other participant can use that one. The goals of the activity are to not be the person holding the toy when the music stops and to review key terms and concepts covered in the session. Once there is only one person standing for each group, I either bring those people together for a final round or wrap up with summary comments. In either case, I generally have everyone give a round of applause for all the input provided and reward the last person standing (as an individual or from each group) a small prize (e.g. candy, toy or other items related to the session theme).

The key to using strategies for engaging adult learners is to tie them directly to learning objectives, get learners actively involved, and make the learning fun.

Looking for more ideas on using activities and strategies for engaging adult learners? Check out other articles on the topic on this blog. Also, take a look at Creative Learning: Activities and Games That Really Engage Learners; Training Workshop Essentials: Designing, Developing and Delivering Learning Events That Get Results; The Creative Training Idea Book: Inspired Tips and Techniques for Engaging and Effective Learning; and Energize Your Training: Creative Techniques to Engage Learners. 

Do you have creative and effective strategies for engaging adult learners that you are willing to share with others? Share one here.

Ways to Engage Adult Learners Before Training Begins

Ways to Engage Adult Learners Before Training Begins

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.

Ways to Engage Adult Learners Before Training BeginsIn-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.

Ways to Engage Adult Learners Before Training BeginsWays to Engage Adult Learners Before Training Begins Ways to Engage Adult Learners Before Training BeginsCreate 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.