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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Adult Learners and PD

Blogging from Las Vegas during a 3-day Professional Development session and thinking about Adult Learners. The work of Malcolm Knowles continues to resonate even though he did not write about technology or the field of education per se - he wrote about andragogy - or adult learning. Knowles explains that adults have a wealth of knowledge, want involvement in learning, want hands-on experience, are practical, are motivated by their own needs, want their own learning styles maximized, and need time to think and reflect. The book I use most by Knowles is The Adult Learner which is now in its 6th edition.

When Professional Development is designed for the Adult Learner, knowing that adults need opportunities to be hands-on, should do and not just view, that they have an average attention span of between 8 to 20 minutes, that they have a wealth of knowledge, that they are highly practical, and that they need to see the value of the learning, it works and you will see evidence in post-session surveys.

Here are some ideas that have worked for education technology working sessions:
  1. Getting participants hands-on as quickly as possible. Brief intros and a broad stroke of purpose and goals - possibly turning to participants for purpose and goals.
  2. Changing activities and approaches frequently.
  3. Adjusting as needed - paying attention to the body language of participants and having some activities ready should the session lag.
  4. Breaks. This may seem obvious but adults need to stretch, move, and walk away in order to return fresh.
  5. Getting feedback and participation different ways. Some will feel comfortable speaking out, others will prefer reflecting on paper, others will like an online survey or a back channel.
  6. Sparing use of Powerpoint - but - not so spare that there is nothing to follow or see for your visual learners.
  7. An electronic version of it all somewhere - a Wiki, a Ning, etc.
  8. Some type of paper handout. We don't want to kill trees but we are in this interesting in between stage right now involving adults who are "paper-trained" - and those who are immersed and comfortable in the fully-electronic delivery of media. Give them something to hold in their hands and you will see relief on the faces of many participants.
  9. Reasonable times for all activities - not too long or too short - adjust if you start seeing people taking a break when times for working hands-on.
  10. A reinforced theme - go back to that whenever possible.
  11. A "parking lot" for ideas or tangents that are brought up.
  12. A positive activity describing the intent of the session and asking people to buy in somehow - we posted a large smiley face, gave out star stickers, and asked people to post 2 things on how they will be ensuring they stay positive at their schools while managing change.
  13. Participant sharing in different ways - not just talking - showing, demonstrating, sending out links, etc.
  14. A druther - 2 projectors in every room - one for the present(ers) with a screen and one for the participants with a screen/wall as well - speakers for both - jump drives if needed and a spare laptop
Starting the second day this morning of our session which we have adjusted and changed multiple times and feeling energized about working with adult learners. It is so much better than being a "talking head" (although I've done my share of that)!

2 comments:

Bill Campbell said...

The 8 to 20 minute attention span is backed up by brain research and Rule #4 from the book Brain Rules by John Medina. (It's our school-wide faculty reading suggestion for this summer.)

Every time I read about or hear comments from faculty about what makes for a good adult learner class, I'm struck by the fact that some of those same teachers don't seem to value what they want as a student when they are teaching a class as it reportedly interferes with delivering content.

Are high-school age children and adult learners all that different with regards to what makes an effective and engaging class?

Angela said...

Wish I was there. I am a Knowles evangelist from way back.