There is a reason why corporate training is different than traditional education. An adult learner, especially in the workplace, has a much different learning motivation, learning environment, and learning circumstances. A workplace cannot guarantee most of the underpinnings of traditional education: a required allotment of time, access to a broad scope of subject matter, focus on the knowledge transfer aspect of the experience, a dedicated instructor to design and provision the learning.
Where education is geared toward learning, corporate training focuses on skill development. Where education focuses on theoretical, corporate training needs to produce practical results.
To accomplish corporate training goals, learners need to be universally engaged and motivated. There is a commonality that exists between all employees that can act as a unifying element on which to center training around. Something that everyone in the workplace has in common is experience.
We can use adult learning theories that utilize experience as a guide to create workplace training.
The Andragogy theory, developed by Malcolm Knowles in the 1970s, centers around how adult learners function and how they use their experiences to navigate learning.
Knowles defines six assumptions that relate to how and why learning occurs in adults.
Tap into the adult learner’s experiences, and allow them to leverage what they already know to self-navigate through learning topics that can produce a tangible end-result.
Indicative of its name, Experiential Learning is the process of living the learning rather than having the concepts of the learning related to you. For adults in particular, no other form of input can take the place of being immersed in the learning experience.
David A. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model (ELM) breaks down four cyclical stages of experiential learning.
Create situations and scenarios that allow the adult learner to physically and emotionally experience the learning, give them space to take a step back and process what they just experienced to formulate a new understanding, then provide the freedom for them to test out that new understanding.
As early as 1978, Jack Mezirow began working on the theory that learning is a result of an event which challenges prior understanding. The learner is taken through not only a transformative experience, but also a subsequent series of steps that lead them to a place where their new understanding is reintegrated into their life. These “Eureka!” moments represent a true transformation in the learner’s perspective.
The perspective shift is explained by Mezirow as follows:
Practically speaking, the adult learner experiences a dilemma that shakes a belief held dear to them. Because it is an unsettling feeling to learn that your prior belief is wrong, the learner struggles to grasp the ramifications of this revelation. They enter a state of internal exploration as well as validation against the understanding of others.
From there, the adult learner begins to formulate an understanding of what the new belief means to them and their life. They draw conclusions to establish a sense of relevance revolving around the new belief, and form an idea of the outcome of developing their transformed understanding.
With an end result in sight, the learner can now focus on how to put the new understanding into practice - testing as they go - until it is a fully embedded part of their life. The entire process is an experience with the learner at the center.
Challenge the learner’s beliefs, allow them to have epiphanies, and facilitate a transformation of perspective.
Experiences are a common ground in an ever-increasingly diverse setting that most workplaces have become. Experience can be the starting point of the learning, it can be the main source of engagement for the adult learner, and it can also be the process by which the learning occurs.