Training and developing staff is a core component of every business, from startups to large corporations. In 2017, U.S.-based corporations and educational institutions with 100 or more employees spent $90.6 billion on staff training and professional development.
How do we know if these investments make a difference in employee productivity? How can we ensure our trainings provide relevant knowledge and skills? After teaching children and training thousands of early education colleagues along the way, I’ve realized that the only difference between instructing kids and professionals is their age (and maybe some back pain).
The same effective strategies we use in early childhood classrooms apply to adult staff and learners. Here are techniques that early educators use in the classroom that can also apply to training adults.
Lecture-heavy training doesn’t work—adults just want to have fun.
Children learn best through the stimulation of play. This technique is also highly effective for the adult learner. Your trainings should include interactive and hands-on activities. Adults will retain more of what they have learned when provided with activities that allow them to process the knowledge presented to them. Using more participative teaching methods, will help the adult learner process the information and retain more of the information that can later be used in their jobs. Some ways to incorporate more hands-on activities in your trainings is to allow time for small group activities: while it is necessary to provide content through lecturing, make sure and ask open-ended questions to get engagement from the trainees. A good rule of thumb is to incorporate some type of engagement at least every 10 minutes of the training. Lectures alone won’t stick with the trainee. Use role-playing, small group discussions, and real-life scenarios to help learners apply what they are learning to real workplace situations.
Your audience is a classroom; know your students.
When a new student joins a class, the teacher is provided with a profile of the child’s likes and dislikes—information from the parent on their home routines and schedules. This helps the teacher tailor her teaching to the individual needs of the child.
The same techniques hold true for adult learners. Make time at the beginning of the training to get to know the participants. Ice-breakers and well-designed introductions are effective opportunities to allow participants to get to know each other and also allows the trainer to assess the need of the audience. Knowing ahead of time who you will be training helps you intentionally plan a training that will meet the specific needs of your audience. Trainers who employ lots of creative strategies for getting to know their audience are better equipped to ensure that the content will be retained and used when they leave the training.
Provide opportunities for practice.
In the classroom, there are many opportunities for children to practice various skills to learn and grow. Infants are given mirrors to learn about self-concept; stacking toys teach fine motor skills and shapes. Adult learners need the same approach to retaining what they have learned in the training.
Make sure activities are matched to the content of what is being learned. If you are teaching about technical writing or more specifically, how to write effective procedures, provide opportunities to write and edit a procedure document. Allow time for them to share and receive feedback. Providing these opportunities ensures that what is being learned will make sense to them once they leave the training. Allow many opportunities for brainstorming and interactions with their peers. The more adult learners can apply what they are learning, the more successful they will be in applying that knowledge to their work.
Now that you have used these techniques to develop an interactive and effective training, how can you gauge your students’ retention?
Managers want to know the ROI.
Effective trainings always use some type of training evaluation to measure success. While using standard evaluation techniques, such as Likert scales, provides a certain level of evaluation and measurement of training effectiveness, finding some type of quantifiable measure can ensure effective training and learning retention. An early childhood program must follow guidelines set forth by state licensing agencies or accreditation programs. If, on the last licensing inspection, a program was found to have deficiencies in handwashing and training was provided to the staff on effective and appropriate handwashing techniques, one would expect to see that deficiency corrected on the next licensing inspection. This would effectively show retention of learning.
Another useful question to use on an evaluation is to simply ask how you’ll use what you learned today at your workplace. This provides the opportunity for the adult learner to process what they have learned and suggest how they will apply it to a real work place situation.
Finally, make sure trainings are time sensitive, applicable to the real world, and relevant to the context being presented. Training someone without providing applicable real-world experience decreases the chances of retention go down tremendously. Make sure that the training can be used within 30 days, or all hope of retention is lost. Trainers can only do so much; it is up to the businesses to allow their employees to apply that learning.
We can learn a lot about training development from young children and it is essential to apply those “lessons learned” to ensure a successful ROI.