Creating a Vision in Adult Learning Environments

Do adults learn better when they understand why they need to learn the subject matter?

Do they learn better when they see the content as directly relevant to their lives?

Despite the recent breakthroughs in research on how the brain actually learns, no one can answer these questions with 100% certainty. In the middle of the twentieth century, educational theorists began to believe there were differences between the way adults learn and the way children learn. They believed adults had a “need to know” why learning a body of knowledge was important to them. They further believed the more relevant the material was to the personal experience of the learner, the more motivated they are to learn.

An employee who has just been promoted to a managerial position is supposedly more motivated to learn management principles and techniques than a learner who sees a management job as nothing more than a remote and distant possibility.

Brain-based learning research appears to indicate the differences are not as significant as once thought, varying more by degree than substance. As an example, in their 1994 book Understanding a Brain-Based Approach to Teaching and Learning, researchers Renate and Geoffrey Caine claimed that the brain searches for meaning and that search is “hard-wired” or innate.

There is still much debate about the real effectiveness of different educational approaches, and to a working training professional, the challenge of converting theories that sound wonderful into instructional techniques in a real seminar setting can be overwhelming.

Some wisely choose to simply forget about the research. It just sounds logical that anyone would be more eager to learn something he or she will be able to put to use immediately. It also sounds logical that students will be more eager to learn something if they can see the reason for it.

But how do you translate that into something practical? Especially in situations where the learner has no choice in what they are learning. Professional certificate or licensing training is a case in point.

Learners enroll in often expensive programs that someday will lead to a Professional certificate of some kind. Depending on the situation, the process could take years and the content of the licensing or certificate education is not up to the student.

As the instructor, you are the one who knows what professional life might be like at the end of the program. Create that vision and share it with the participants on the first day.

Vision is a powerful tool and a key ingredient of leadership. Here is a standard dictionary definition of vision: the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be.

Although you may have read again and again to use student-centered approaches, never forget that when it comes to the content of the workshop, you have more experience than the students do. You are in a position to describe for your students in vivid tones what their lives can be like once they complete their training.