Adults are vulnerable to personal and professional embarrassment from poor performance in the training program. Poor performance in the classroom may become the basis for personnel decisions by supervisors or the source of ridicule by peers. Economic benefits or promotion may be associated with the training program, creating a feeling of pressure to succeed. The way you handle these fears will largely determine the effectiveness and usefulness of your training program. To fail to recognize that adults have legitimate fears, or to treat them as children, is to guarantee failure.
Because adults tend to be more critical than children and are used to having more control of their environments than children, it is particularly important to provide learning environments that are comfortable both physically and psychologically. Each adult has a unique expectation of the course. Trainers must allow students to clarify and articulate these expectations before getting into the content. New knowledge and information must be integrated with adults' previous knowledge. This requires active learner participation, a supportive atmosphere, and freedom of expression. Adults take errors personally, and are more likely than children to let them affect their self-esteem. Therefore, they tend to use tried and true solutions and to be unwilling to take risks. Trainers should design risks which feel safe and calculated.
Training that is in conflict with the basic values of an adult is unlikely to be effective. The trainer must be very conscious of the values of the people in a training program and structure the material so that these basic values are not threatened. However, the concepts presented in the course should also be explained from another perspective to give trainees a broader understanding. This quote by Edward Lindeman sums up the notion that adults must receive special treatment in the classroom if training programs are to be effective. "None but the humble become good teachers of adults. In an adult class the students' experience counts as much as the teacher's knowledge."
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CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.