During training, it is very important to keep attention to the group flow, dynamics and feelings in a way to be able to adapt the contents and sometimes also the values prepared in advance. It is one of the principles of non-formal learning, keep the learners at the center of the process. Sometimes could be difficult to plan and being obliged to re-plan sessions prepared weeks before, but it is necessary to foster the learning process of participants and having an impact.
In the early 1970s, Malcolm Knowles introduced the term “andragogy,” describing differences between children and adult learners (Knowles, Swanson, & Holton, 2005). Andragogy focuses on the special needs of adult learners. Knowles identified six assumptions about adult learning: (1) need to know, (2) self-concept, (3) prior experience, (4) readiness to learn, (5) learning orientation, and (6) motivation to learn.
The Need to Know. Adults want to know why they need to learn something before undertaking learning (Knowles et al, 2005). Facilitators must help adults become aware of their “need to know” and make a case for the value of learning.
The Learners’ Self-Concept. Adults believe they are responsible for their lives (Knowles et al, 2005). They need to be seen and treated as capable and self-directed. Facilitators should create environments where adults develop their latent self-directed learning skills (Brookfield, 1986).
The Role of the Learners’ Experiences. Adults come into an educational activity with different experiences than youth (Knowles et al, 2005; Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). There are individual differences in background, learning style, motivation, needs, interests, and goals, creating a greater need for individualization of teaching and learning strategies (Brookfield, 1986; Silberman & Auerbach, 1998). The richest resource for learning resides in adults themselves; therefore, tapping into their experiences through experiential techniques (discussions, simulations, problem-solving activities, or case methods) is beneficial (Brookfield, 1986; Knowles et al, 2005; McKeachie, 2002; Silberman & Auerbach, 1998).
Readiness to Learn. Adults become ready to learn things they need to know and do in order to cope effectively with real-life situations (Knowles et al, 2005). Adults want to learn what they can apply in the present, making training focused on the future or that does not relate to their current situations, less effective.
Orientation to Learning. Adults are life-centered (task-centered, problem-centered) in their orientation to learning (Knowles et al, 2005). They want to learn what will help them perform tasks or deal with problems they confront in everyday situations and those presented in the context of application to real-life (Knowles et al, 2005; Merriam & Caffarella, 1999).
Motivation. Adults are responsive to some external motivators (e.g., better jobs, higher salaries), but the most potent motivators are internal (e.g., desire for increased job satisfaction, self-esteem). Their motivation can be blocked by training and education that ignores adult learning principles (Knowles et al, 2005).
During a training activity, then, is very important to focus on how these elements are managed/coordinated and especially in the field of non-formal learning how the role of learner’s experience and motivation is enough taken into account to keep the learning process fluid, dynamic and present.
If during training some of these elements are not in the flow with the participants’ learning needs/feelings, then the trainer should be able to balance them or even better find a new inner balance in the proposal.
How to apply it in everyday work?
During the last afternoon session of an activity that you are leading, two participants say suddenly that the session is not useful for them: what would you do/react? How would you feel?
During the evaluation meeting in the evening, one of your trainer’s colleagues said that he felt the group not following the process: how do you work about this feedback? which kind of actions/reactions are you going to implement (if any)? Are these kinds of feedback important for you?
These two situations are just a starting point for you to write another couple of “What if the situation” and to analyze the possible reactions. Don’t do the exercise alone! You can share these kinds of experiences with other colleagues as it is always very rich to see the experiences of others and how they reacted to similar situations.
Which are then the competencies that you should empower?
- Do you feel comfortable in general to face an unexpected situation?
- Do you consider yourself a flexible person in the working field?
- What do you need to react better to an unexpected situation?
- How do you ensure to keep the principles of non-formal education fix despite the further adaptation of your sessions?