January 15, 2007

Adult Learning Principles, Part 6: Sensitive Egos



Adult learning principle #5:

Adult learners have sensitive egos

Many of us, over the course of a lifetime, have developed a fear of appearing stupid or incompetent. As children, we were encouraged to explore, ask questions and learn about the world, but somewhere along the way, that was taken away from us. Many adults have mixed feelings about teachers, school, and structured learning.

Some people go to great lengths to hide their inability to read, for example, or their lack of understanding of the duties of their job.

An instructor/speaker must be aware of these issues and build trust by treating learners respectfully, sensitively, and without judgement.

* Allow participants to build confidence by practicing what is learned in small groups before facing the large group

* Use positive reinforcement to encourage participants

* If sensitive issues are to be discussed, create a safe space by enforcing confidentiality and allowing participants to "pass" if there's something they're not comfortable talking about

* Provide activities that are low-risk before moving on to activities featuring higher risk or greater trust

* As mentioned in a previous post, acknowledge participants' previous life experience and knowledge and allow them to voice opinions and share in class leadership

A speaker who believes and acts like s/he knows more than anyone else in the room is asking for trouble, and creating an environment that will discourage learning.

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