Four Tips for Teaching Adults

By the very nature of the topics we teach, we and the instructors we train are almost exclusively dedicated to training adults.  It goes almost without saying that adults require a distinctly different training approach than children.  However, without proper training adult educators and trainers have only their own experience to call upon for developing training and much of that occurred when they were children.


Treat adult learners like adult learners.

Unlike children, adult learners have a wide range of adult life experience they will be trying to connect their new knowledge to.  It’s entirely possible as a MIL/LE trainer that you’ll have four, maybe five – yes 5 – generations in training at the same time. If a new recruit  (22) and the sheriff (65) are in your class – you have a traditionalist and Generation Z in the same training.  Though they’re both adults they have distinctly different life experiences that shape their learning.  Consider facilitating the class in such a manner that requires cross-generational facilitation.


Consider and acknowledge the technology gap.

The technology gap that we find between the older members of the profession and newest members can be significant.  Not to say that the chief isn’t a wiz with internet searches but she wasn’t born with a connected computer (or several for that matter) in the house.  Remember,, Craigslist, eBay, and all launched in 1995 – they’ll turn 24-years old in 2019 – just like most of the rookies.  The younger generation is a digital native while the older generation is an immigrant.  Both have the ability to manage whatever technology an instructor can put in their hands – but the learning curve might be very different.  Check out this post with five tech challenges that adult learners deal with.


Use lesson time wisely. 

Finding the perfect pace for teaching and training adults can be a challenge.  If you spend too much time you’ll bore them but if you rush through you’ll lose them.  A tip for training adults is to involve them in the pacing.  This is best done through facilitated conversation and guided discovery.  Doing checks on learning more frequently throughout the lesson instead of waiting to “test” them at the end of the module will help gauge their level of understanding and their willingness to continue along the same learning path. If the instructor misses the cue and lets the learner tune out it is particularly challenging to bring them back.


Be creative: 

American adult learners are far too familiar with the rows of desks they remember from grade school, high school, and even college.  They remember the teacher at the front of the room and the blackboard (and modern-day slide-shows).    Change this – challenge the status quo.  When the adult learner experiences a departure to the routine they’re accustomed to so they are more receptive to new information.  Of course, they may experience some awkwardness at first but after you lower their defenses and this awkwardness passes they’ll be ready to learn.


Challenge them.

All learners, but especially adult learners learn best when they are challenging themselves in some way – physically, mentally, emotionally.  As trainers, we have the ability to turn the challenge up and down depending on the learners’ needs and our willingness to push our own comfort level.  The key to success with this is managing risks and ensuring learners feel safe and comfortable to push themselves.