10 Things You Must Know About Your Learners Before Creating Your Course
When it comes to planning and designing effective adult learning programs, it is important that we very clearly understand who our target group of adult learners actually are so that we can design the training to meet the group needs; and as we will discuss in later posts, their individual needs too.
When it comes to thinking about your target group, it is important to remember that different learners have very different characteristics. They have very different learning preferences, learning modes and learning styles. They work and live in very different environments and come from very different backgrounds which means that the way we have to design and deliver our training needs to be very different from group to group, as well as down to an individual level as far as it is possible.
Here is a list of differentiating factors you need to consider when it comes to planning out your training, how it’s going to be written and how it’s going to be delivered to ensure that you are meeting the basic principles of adult learning and forming the base of an effective learning program:
Factor 1: The level and breadth of their previous work experience
Understanding your learner’s previous vocational work or industry experience in the subject you are teaching is a critical element of planning and preparing your adult learning program. If for example, the majority of your target learner group have significant work experience in the topic that you are teaching then you may be able to skip more of the fundamental elements of that training and either condense the program into an intensive version, or focus the content at a much more advanced level.
Factor 2: The level and previous experiences of their formal education
What kind of formal and informal educational background do your group of learners have?
What is their current skill level in the topic that you’re teaching?
Do they enjoy personal and professional development, or loath it based on their previous experiences?
By conducting a thorough pre-assessment on all learners, what you discover about their educational background can have a profound influence on your overall training design and delivery.
Factor 3: Their Socioeconomic Background
What socioeconomic background have they come from? Are there any for of generalisations or stereotypes that you need to consider adding in or taking out of your learning programs depending on type of group that you actually have?
The socio-economic status of your learners can impact everything from language you use, case scenario examples you use, the activities you use, your contextualisation and even the images in your presentation materials and handouts.
Factor 4: Their cultural background and needs
The cultural background that your target group of learners come from is also a very important consideration.
Let me share with you a real course creation story that can be seen as humorous, but in fact is a very serious example of how the smallest things can make a huge difference to a training program’s success or monumental failure.
In 2014 my company MainTraining were contracted to develop a range of qualifications for the Saudi Arabian military. Due to the technical nature of the training content we had to employ various subject matter experts to produce the content for the specialist training. It was our job to then review that content against the national training framework specifications and ensure the design met the client style guides.
As part of the review process of one of the qualifications, we were analysing the content of a PowerPoint for a leadership module when we discovered a number of serious faux pas! One of the clip art images used to represent leadership, depicted a group of black stick-men all holding a platform above their heads, on top of which was a white stick man pointing the direction in which he should be carried. In a later slide, there was a stock image of half dressed women in a shower, and in another slide was an image of a female giving orders to a group of men.
All of these were standard stock images and clipart files that in some cultures would be considered entirely unremarkable. However, when consideration is made to the specific group of learners that this training was being designed for, all of a sudden the context makes these images highly offensive and completely inappropriate.
This is a very real story and I hope it illustrates for you just how important it is to consider the cultural background of your learners when designing and delivering effective adult learning programs.
Factor 5: Their age and gender
This is an obvious consideration and does not warrant much explanation. Make sure your pre assessment process captures the age and gender of your students so that you can ensure that your training content and program is designed to meet these differences.
For example your training delivery for a course that will have only 18 to 21 year olds, is likely to be considerably different to the same course of entirely 50 + year olds.
Similarly if you have a group of learners of a completely mixed age range then your training content and delivery for the same course may again include very different approaches to design and delivery.
Factor 6: Special educational needs
Designing effective adult learning programs also requires you to make special adjustments to meet special educational needs. Such a judgement could include making fonts larger, having handouts on different coloured paper, wearing hearing aid microphones, having a translator or support teacher present, among many other SEN considerations.
Factor 7: Their motivations for learning
What are their motivations for actually being on your course in the first place? Later in this book we go deeper into the principles of adult learning, which tells us that adults need to understand why what they are learning is relevant to them. If we can take the time to understand why our group are likely to be in our learning program at all, it will help us design the language in a way that continuously reinforces their motivations for being there.
Factor 8: Their language literacy and numeracy needs
We all have different skills and abilities when it comes to the technical and industry specific language of your course topics; as well as our general reading, writing, speaking, learning and numeric skills sets. By understanding where our learners sit on the ‘LLN’ scale, we can better design and deliver our training to not only ensure that they are not excluded by their LLN skills but actually improve and build upon them by default through the teaching and learning activities you have selected.
Factor 9: Their learning styles modes and preferences
Probably one of the more well known concepts of developing training that meets adult learning needs. When we consider the way that our learners prefer to learn, their most natural styles of acquiring new knowledge and skills, and the modality within which they take on the greatest amount of learning; then we can be sure that we are developing effective adult learning programs. I go into this in much more detail in my online course the ‘Advanced Train the Trainer and Curriculum Design’ course.
Factor 10: Special Program Conditions
This refers to whether your learners are on your learning program having qualified specifically for your training program under special conditions such as a specific funding model, unemployment status, residency status or disability status as examples. this means that your training program may have to be designed around specific criteria, learning outcomes, performance elements and collect very specific data and evidence of competence.
The list of considerations that must be made when designing and developing effective adult learning programs could in essence be endless. However the list of 10 key influencing factors above will most certainly ensure that you have an extremely fair chance of getting it right .
If you would like help creating your own online or offline training courses (for accredited or non-accredited training); feel free to contact Sarah.