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Good Classes and Bad Classes

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Have you ever completed a course of study that truly inspired you? One in which you really got a lot out of the learning experience? You left feeling more competent, at least understanding how you could become more competent, and confident that you could do it!

Have you ever taken a course or participated in a learning session that left you very disappointed? Did you tune out and turn off early in the session? Although you had some interest to learn and grow in the instruction are when you arrived, you left with a negative attitude and with very little you could use.

In this article we will look at what turns adult leaners on or off, and what helps or disrupts their willingness to learn.

Good Classes and Bad Classes

What makes for a great learning experience? A report published by the ASTD based on empiric evidence gathered over thousands of working adults, from managers operating in executive offices to workers out on the frontline, from highly sophisticated knowledge professionals to routine-task physical workers. The report shows a consistent trend across all work levels and types and all worker groups. The questions asked during the research were: 

  1. Think of the great course, class, or learning session you attended. What made it great for you?
  2. Think of a rotten course, class, or learning session you attended. For you what made it rotten?

Table 1 and Table 2 list some of the most common responses received. 

Table 1. Examples of what makes for great training

It responded to my needs

I could see how it applied to me

There was a lot of participation

I was drawn in quickly

The explanations were clear and concise

I could relate to my job

I could ask questions at any time

I didn’t fell stupid

I understood where I was going

There were lots of takeaways I could use

It helped my do my work better

The session was interactive

I could try out what was taught

I got feedback on how I did

I learned a lot from the other participants

The material were clear and useful

I felt respected

There was a lot of two-way communication 

The instructor “spoke my language”

Table 2. Examples of what makes for poor training

It was too far removed from my interests

I couldn’t see how I would use it

It was a one-way transmissions of information

I soon was in information overload

There was little to no discussion

There was little to no practice

There was little to no feedback to me personally on what I did

The materials were poorly designed

A lot of time was wasted

There was little I could take back to my job

The content was OK but the methods for communicating were poor

I was a passive listener most of the time

I couldn’t understand what was being taught

There were very few, if any, examples that I understood

It was dull, monotonous, and boring

I didn’t learn much

I couldn’t ask questions when I wanted

How it works?

Good Classes. Somebody, the instructor/trainer, a course designer, or a decision-maker of some sort, made an effort to create a learning experience that was relevant to you from a personal perspective (work and/or life); structured it so that you knew where it where going; provided the content in a way that was meaningful to you; gave you opportunities to get involved meaningfully; and provided you with tools and/or a sense of direction for applying what you learned to your work, your life, or both. Bravo!

Bad Classes. Somebody, perhaps even the instructor/trainer, decided this was useful for you; figured out not only what you need, but at what level and in what format and sequence it made sense to deliver it; made sure that it was full of the right content that he or she believed you should have; and dumped it into you. You were an empty vessel into which the instructor poured the contents.

The proper care and handling of adult leaners is extremely important when building terrific training sessions, regardless of the means of delivery. ASTD research confirms that most of the training conducted is reminiscent of our school and college days. Although we were bored or confused by our teachers and professors when we were students, as instructors and trainers we tend to repeat the practices we hated in others.

How can we break out this pattern? The cues are the items in tables 1 and 2 that describe good and bad training. We can break away from boring, unproductive practices by focusing on our learners as adults with the same sorts of needs, concerns, desires, fears, frustrations, quirks, ambitions, capabilities, and personal priorities that we have.

Our job as trainers, instructors, and educators, is to help our adult learners learn. Their success s our success. That sounds simple, but it’s challenging. We can do it by understanding how adult learners learn and by applying that insight to our practices.

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