Tips on Training Adult Employees in the Workplace
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By Chris Chiancone, Chief Information Officer of Plano, Texas
For many years, I worked as a part-time night and weekend adjunct professor for a few junior and private colleges. I will never forget my first semester of teaching when I could not figure out why students were having difficulty remembering content, were not very engaged during class, and were harsh in their critique of my teaching style.
I reached out to my teaching advisor for insight and ended up having a very enlightening conversation about adult learning. Although his evaluation of my teaching style left no room for any feeling of accomplishment, it proved to be one of the best coaching sessions I have ever had. I’ve applied what I learned directly to my current career, which includes training personnel how to use technological systems and protect network systems.
Why Adult Learners Are Unique
Adult learners are distracted learners, my advisor told me. Period, end of story. Adult learners often have lots of things other than learning going on in their life. When in class, they might start thinking about what they’re making for dinner, how to get their kids to different events around town, concerns with household finances, and a number of other complicated and stressful things. As a result, adults require some unique approaches to help them learn and understand new information.
Delivering Effective Training
Similar to challenges in traditional academic settings, adults also have difficulties learning new information when at work in a business setting. Company training staff must remember this when conducting training sessions about new technologies, new procedures, updates on company policies, and other important company information.
When conducting training that requires in-person attendance, it’s important to remember that traditional training methods are often not effective for many employees. Traditional sessions are often too long, overly structured, and don’t focus on teaching applied skills.
When I deliver in-person training to employees, I employ a teaching model I developed from my academic teaching experience that I refer to as CPR, which is based on three principles:
- Chunks: presenting small amounts of information at a time. In order for this information to stick, it must be attached to a
- Peg: an image, belief, emotion, or other sensory element that the person finds
- Relatable: and pragmatic in nature.
Information presented using the CPR method needs to be repeated over and over, in a process called inculcation. The more the information relates to common business problems and is presented in a way that directly applies to how the person will use it, the more likely the employee will understand and retain it.
Teaching Technology Skills
Let’s take, for example, training employees on how to use a new computer operating system. Traditional teaching would go through the history of the operating system, versions, advancements, high-level explanation of the use of the system, and common issues with the system. This is all well and good for technology staff who support such a system, but non-technical people would undoubtedly be bored to death.
Instead, the non-technical adult learner needs to be taught in a way that reflects how they will use the system, in less than 50 minutes of time. The training session should include:
- A computer loaded with the new operating system.
- An environment in which the employee can follow along, step by step, with the instructor as they complete common tasks.
- More opportunity to follow the instructor on common tasks related to chunks of business knowledge. For instance, working through an Excel document where the instructor teaches and the student duplicates.
- Present chunks of business knowledge, attached to solving a real-life work problem.
- Peg the real-life problem to a feeling of accomplishment and success.
Relate the material to solving a problem so employees know that what they’re learning is practical and can be applied to solving future problems they might encounter. By following the CPR method, employees will increase their knowledge about how the system works in a practical way, which will enhance their ability to use it to solve future problems they might encounter.
Instructors should also present this information repeatedly, using inculcation, which will eventually lead to better retention of information, although it may cause some frustration among employees. One way to combat this frustration is to record training sessions and allow staff to learn at their own pace, any time, and in their own environment. Conducting regular and thoughtfully structured training sessions will lead to greater adoption by employees and improved knowledge and efficiency.
About the Author: Chris Chiancone is a strategic thought leader with more than 20 years of experience delivering advanced hardware and software solutions for private corporations and public-sector organizations. Programs implemented by Chris and his team help organizations deliver strong technological innovation, helping align industry leaders with a substantial competitive advantage while (or by) focusing on technology transformation, increasing productivity, reducing cost, cloud migration, and organizational security.
Chris has a strong track record of building versatile, top-tier technology teams. His skillset includes strategic planning, technological innovation, IT architecture, applications, security and production with large ERP, cloud providers, ITIL, and data science technologies. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.