Why are important training sessions always so dull?
Connecting the dots between engaging adult educational practices and mandatory training
My favorite activity during required training sessions, after identifying errors, is thinking about how to improve these mandated activities.
Why are they always so dull?
Training sessions, particularly required ones, are usually some of the most boring and tedious activities possible. The training is a barrier to doing something. This gateway may be to joining a workplace, research, teaching, working with a specific vulnerable population, or something similar. The highlight of these training sessions typically is when they have all the updated appearance of something made for Windows 95. The content probably was last updated around then as well.
Recently, I attended a voluntary training session. It had great content, but was severely limited by poor design and delivery. If this is happening even in the training sessions that are not required, perhaps the limiting factor is the educational component. Another voluntary training session I attended turned into an educational police state, with a great suspicion that participants were not paying attention. Perhaps this means the training is too boring and too many hours.
Broadly, we know how to approach adult education. Adult learning theory (andragogy) is well established. Adult education needs to focus on the process and less on the content. While content obviously is important, the development and integration of new knowledge is essential. This is a focus on constructivism, where the learners - particularly adult learners - are not passive vessels to be filled with knowledge. These learners are constructing the knowledge, rather than taking it effortlessly. This construction is integrating the information into previously understood frameworks and reconciling new information against pre-existing knowledge (schemas). Goodness, I learned in college when falling asleep on a textbook that the “learning by osmosis” thing didn’t work.
General principles of constructivist learning are that:
Active, engaged learning is more effective than passive
Learning is social and interaction with others facilitates learning
Experiential education should be the goal
One of the goals of constructivist learning is to create cognitive dissonance. This resonates well with DEI education, as learning is a challenge and individuals reconcile new information with their previous understanding. While constructivism is not the only learning theory in the broad umbrella of adult learning (for example, experiential learning, transformative learning, project-based learning, among others), it provides an important conceptual foundation to understand engagement.
Circling back to adult learning theory more broadly, the general principles are:
Adults want to be involved in the entire learning process, from planning through to evaluation
Experiences give important context (positive and negative) to the learning process
Adults need to know and understand the “why” and the relevance to their lives and jobs
Learning should focus on problems, not on vague topics or subjects
Overall, experiential learning, preparation for learning, problem solving, the “why,” and motivation are essential to adult learning. Applying active learning strategies, generally any activity where students engage in the learning, is then a necessity. These activities may vary and can be anything from self-assessment and think-pair-share (individual consideration, then pair discussion) to case studies, peer review, and role playing. There is a wide spectrum of active learning activities based on time requirements and relative complexity. Importantly, the activities within a session must be broken up into short durations and changing tasks to maintain engagement.
Why does it seem like adult learning concepts are not applied to adult training?
Personally, I think someone, somewhere decided that training should be dull. It is required, so make it torture. Then everyone followed suit. It is easier to talk at people for three hours than to make the learning process an experience.
To apply the general principles of adult learning theory to diversity, equity, and inclusion education, the focus needs to be on overall adult learning engagement. This should center the process of learning and planning activities to help individuals integrate new information into their current knowledge.
Check out these posts in The Write Climate on two recent employee DEI workshops I developed and delivered:
Setting an Ambitious Course to ‘Crawl’ by Meeting People Where They Are - focused on an introductory DEI workshop
Creating a New Road into the Future - an exploration of equitable hiring process training
Onto the obvious, training sessions need updated, accurate content. It needs to be relevant, engaging, and interactive or social. …and for goodness sake, if it is computer-based, it should not look like a 1992 computer game.
Required training (or even voluntary training) does not need to be dull! Applying adult educational concepts to training and development processes can transform the boring into engaging.
Have you ever taken or led a DEI education workshop, activity, or program that appeared to take any of these concepts into the planning process?
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