Five Principles of Adult Learning.
Over the last 25 years, we have conducted a lot of DOT drug and alcohol training and have made it a point to continually evolve our training programs around how adults learn. Whether training employees on the DOT regulations for drug or alcohol testing or providing employee training on your business practices and operations, understanding key adult learning principles will allow you to tailor your training message so the employee effectively retains the information and puts that information into practice.
Here is a list of five principles of adult learning that every training program should consider:
- Personal Benefit: Adults are motivated to learn if they see how the information will personally benefit them by solving a problem, allow for professional growth, satisfy a need, etc.
- Experience: Adults want their unique experience to be acknowledged, and to build on their expertise.
- Self-Direction: Adults learn best if they have some control over their learning.
- Application and Action: Adults learn best when they have an immediate application for the training and can practice the skills during the training.
- Learning Styles: Not every adult learns the same way. Training should accommodate the three styles of adult learning – auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.
The personal benefit to adult learners in the drug and alcohol test industry is fairly easy to address. The bottom line for drug and alcohol testing is safety: for the public, for the employee, as well for fellow employees. Most any course, be it a specimen collector course or BAT course, has safety as the primary goal. Explaining how the training relates to safety is one way of establishing the personal benefit of training.
Allowing students to use their experience and knowledge in the learning process is a very effective way to engage students. Adult learners are motivated to learn if the learning experience allows them to share what they know, builds on what they know and validates their expertise. In a classroom setting this is easily facilitated through group discussion, collaborative exercises with other students, and having students answer questions posed by the instructor and other students.
Adult Learning Styles
Adults tend to fall into one of three primary learning styles; auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Auditory learners learn best and can retain information by simply hearing. Instructor lecture is a preferred method of learning for this group. Visual learners take in information best by watching or reading; they prefer to read rather than being read to or lectured. Visual learners use phrases like, “I can or can’t see that working”. Therefore, it is important instructors offer compelling visual references and content to complement a lecture environment. Kinesthetic learners like to do or touch things and are often referred to as “hands-on” learners. These individuals need to connect with a task or physical item in order to understand it. To keep these learners engaged, instructors need to incorporate tactical exercises intermittently throughout a training class. To engage students and maximize knowledge retention, instructors of classroom and online training must address all three learning styles.
Armed with an understanding of these key principles, you can put into place an effective adult training program that optimizes the employees retention of the information. Greater information retention leads to greater adoption of the information, which means the employee will be more inclined to correctly and consistently carry out their duties.
 Stolovitch and Keeps, Telling Ain’t Training, (Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press, June 2011)
 LMIT, Adult Learners and Learning Styles, http://lmit.edu.au/blog/adult-learners-learning-styles/