What is it about teaching adults that strikes fear in the hearts of people who teach kids all day? As we strive to be seen as leaders among our peers at our campuses, we are very often called to do just that–to lead a training, workshop, or parent meeting. How do we get past the nerves and anxiety to make a confident presentation? Prepare, prepare, and prepare. Oh, and some planning helps, too!
First, realize that adults aren’t just big kids. In fact, there’s a whole term used to illustrate the difference between pedagogy–children’s learning, and andragogy–adults’ learning. Adults come with experiences, good or bad, that predispose them to being open to learning about new subjects. You will need to work from that basis. For example, if you’re making a plug for library services to a group of parents at a back to school night, your parents are already imagining the library experiences they’ve had in the past, and may have a difficult time picturing how today’s school libraries are different from the ones they remember. Be prepared to break those perceptions with great visuals and anecdotes to help reframe their idea of a library.
Second, realize that adult learning styles are as varied as that of students. Kinesthetic, visual, and auditory styles of learning all should be addressed. Unfortunately, very often we do some version of show and tell with adults, and very rarely do we engage them to do something active like role play. Get your adults participants talking to one another, sharing ways to implement and use what they are learning with one another, and allow them to move around if possible. If you are demonstrating some cool new resources available to teachers and staff at a faculty meeting and they’ve been sitting for a while, start your session with an open-ended question that requires them to find a partner on the other side of the room and share their thoughts. This should take no more than 90 seconds or so, but will get their blood flowing and participating in what you’ve got to show them.
Third, help adults connect to the subject to motivate them to learn something new. The first time I led a session with secondary campus administrators about digital citizenship, they’d been sitting for hours and were glazing over. I realized I needed a hook to help them frame the importance of what I was about to teach them to their lives, so I started by asking, “do any of you ever have to deal with discipline related to cell phone or social media issues?” And every hand in the room went up. Once they realized that the session was going to help them solve a daily problem, they were much more engaged.
Finally, adults have little patience with someone who they perceive to be wasting their time. Make sure that your preparations are thorough, that you’ve reduced unnecessary fluff. Especially be sure to stick to the allotted time. Nothing shuts down learning faster than people feeling captive to a long-winded session. Being respectful of everyone’s time is also mandatory if you ever want to be asked to present again in the future.
Being a successful trainer is about being confident–the kind of confidence that comes from knowing you’ve done your research and you are prepared. Once you’ve taken those deep breaths and given it a shot, you’ll realize it’s not as intimidating as you might have thought!
Author: Jennifer Laboon
Jennifer LaBoon is the Coordinator of Library Technology in Fort Worth ISD. She serves on the AASL Blog Committee, on the Executive Board of the Texas Library Association, volunteers with a local children’s musical theater group, and is an avid TCU fan.