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  • Jonathan Parker

061: Public Speaking, Police Training, and the Importance of Understanding Adult Learning Styles

Once you learn something, it never leaves you. Or does it? Whether you are standing in front of others speaking or conducting training one-on-one as a Field Training Officer or mentor, you must understand the fundamentals of adult learning if you are going to connect with your audience and your message is going to stick. In this episode, Jonathan discusses the principles of adult learning by talking about what makes adult learners different, the three learning styles, and how you can effectively apply this knowledge.

"Andragogy" is a term coined by the late American educator Malcolm Knowles, and refers to the adult learning theory - the art and science of adult leading.

If you are going to lead adults in the learning process, you must understand that adult learners are different from child learners. So what makes them different?

1. Self-Concept – As a person matures his/her self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being. Adults are responsible for their actions, decide their own direction, and like to be treated accordingly.

2. Experience – As a person matures, he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning. Adults have experience bases instructors should tap, and instruction should relate learning to past experiences.

3. Readiness to Learn – Adults are ready to learn knowledge and skills that will help them in the real world. Adults become increasingly inclined to the developmental tasks of his/her social roles, and are willing to grow in those areas.

4. Orientation to Learning – Adults center their learning on life issues and problems, rather than on isolated subject matter. They learn based upon immediate application – what benefits me right now or will solve the issues/problems I am facing right now – rather than learning information for postponed application. (i.e. watching Youtube to repair car; classes for present job assignment, etc.)

5. Motivation to Learn – Adults are motivated more effectively by internal factors such as job satisfaction, self-esteem, and quality of life.

Once we understand how adult learners are different, we then look to the 3 learning styles and how to maximize our effectiveness in speaking or facilitating learnign.

DEFINITION: A learning style can be defined as an individual’s preference and response to learning.

As we examine learning styles, think both in terms of “What is my learning style?” and “What is the learning style of my trainee?” Understanding your learning style will assist you in retaining and applying information for personal development. It will also help you understand how you are likely to present information while training others.

Awareness, then, can lend itself to versatility as you intentionally work to train others using various techniques and learning styles.

We can ask ourselves, “Did the methodology I used as a trainer connect with the learning style of the trainee?”

There are three (3) primary learning styles.

1. VISUAL LEARNERS – tend to learn by looking, seeing, viewing, and watching.

Visual learners need to see an instructor’s facial expressions and body language to fully understand the content of a lesson. They tend to sit at the front of the classroom to avoid visual distractions. They tend to think in pictures and learn best from visual displays. During a lecture or discussion, they tend to take detailed notes to absorb information.

Training Tip: “Diagnose” the preferred learning style of others by listening for vocabulary clues. The visual learner may make statements such as:

  • I get the picture

  • I see that now

  • From my perspective

  • What’s your view?

2. AUDITORY LEARNERS – tend to learn by listening, hearing, and speaking.

Auditory learners learn best through lectures, discussions, and brainstorming. They interpret the underlying meaning of speech by listening to voice tone, pitch, and speed and other speech nuances. Written information has little meaning to them until they hear it. They benefit best by reading text out loud and using a tape recorder.

Training Tip: “Diagnose” the preferred learning style of others by listening for vocabulary clues. The auditory learner may make statements such as:

  • I get the message

  • That rings a bell

  • I hear you

  • Sounds good to me

3. KINESTHETIC LEARNERS – tend to learn by experiencing, moving, and doing.

Kinesthetic learners learn best through a hands-on approach and actively exploring the physical world around them. They have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time, and easily become distracted by their need for activity and exploration.

Training Tip: “Diagnose” the preferred learning style of others by listening for vocabulary clues. The kinesthetic learner may make statements such as:

  • How does that grab you?

  • A grasp of the basics

  • It certainly feels right

  • I can relate to that

Research suggests that we retain:

  • 10% of what we see

  • 30-40% of what we see and hear

  • 90% of what we see, hear, and do

“If you want to maximize your effectiveness and become a GREAT trainer, appeal to all styles with emphasis on the dominant style of the trainee.”

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