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.

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