As one of the pioneers of adult education, the American Malcolm Knowles was the first to develop an educational model based on the characteristics of the adult learner, as we discussed in our previous article The Adult: a distinct learner. Although other theories have since emerged, Knowles’s remains relevant and the validity of some of his hypotheses has recently been confirmed by neuroscience. Here’s how this model can help you design an online course better suited for the adult learner.

  1. Explain why

The learner must know why he needs to learn a specific notion, why he needs to develop particular competencies or why the learning is compulsory or profitable for him. To show the learner that these explanations are necessary and easy to identify, it is wise to think carefully about their presentation and to give them a common look & feel that is recognizable throughout the training.

  1. Give the choice

Each learner likes to have some control over his or her learning path. Allow them to choose the order in which they can complete the modules or lessons.

  1. Establish an equal relationship

Whether it is the teacher, the trainer or the tutor, they must establish an egalitarian relationship with the learner. This imperative must also be taken into account in the writing of scenarios and the direction of performers, especially those who, as narrators, directly address the learners to deliver content, and give them advice.

Inviting the learners to take part in the planning and evaluation of their learning is another way of developing an egalitarian relationship with them. If training is not yet developed, this may take the form of prior consultation of the target audience. If the training is launched, the trainers can take the learners’ pulse, relating to different aspects of the training, through online discussion sessions (online forums, social media, etc.).

  1. Allow self-assessment

Before putting the learners through an official evaluation, the training must allow them to evaluate themselves what they know and to adjust their learning path accordingly. Their motivation to succeed and their satisfaction, once success is achieved, will be strengthened.

  1. Consider the learners’ experience

Whether it is the general direction of the training or the way it addresses the learners, it is essential to take into account that this audience has a life experience. We must, therefore, have a positive approach towards them and avoid any form of paternalism.

  1. Customize the training

A group of adult learners who follow the same training is far from homogeneous. Ideally, training would be customized as much as possible or at least think about ways to reflect the diversity present in the group. This can be achieved by offering scenarios based on different profiles or by integrating characters from different cultural backgrounds into your illustrations or videos. Of course, you will have identified in advance the characteristics most representative of your pool of learners.

  1. Promote social presence online

The interaction that an individual has with his social environment strongly influences his learning. And it’s not only for kids! Studies have shown that social presence in online education has a positive impact not only on motivation but also on the feeling of connection with peers, performance in the work and learners’ satisfaction.

On the other hand, an adult who engages in training generally expects this experience to be socially rewarding. In any case, the integration of social networks in online training is essential! But beware: to get the full potential of these platforms in a learning environment and to create meaningful interactions among participants, there are certain principles to be respected (see: Does a sense of community matter in online training?).

  1. Emphasize the real, the practical, the concrete

When the content of the training to be developed comes from a classroom course, its adaptation online is a golden opportunity to review it, to see if it is still relevant, up-to-date, adapted, etc. Take the opportunity to re-examine it from an objective point of view: Does it meet the learners’ needs? Do the examples reflect the reality of the target audience? Is it clear to the learner how the learning will be useful? One suggestion: consider including interviews with different stakeholders who can testify to their experience, provide concrete recommendations.

  1. Raise commitment

To complete and succeed in any training, the learner must engage in it, and motivation is an essential factor. As explained in 8 key elements of learner engagement, the most important intrinsic motivators are: the learners’ perceived value of the task, the control they can exercise over their task, the feelings of personal efficiency, the perception of their chances of success, and the quality of the challenge that the task represents for them. The more the learners feel well positioned or stimulated on these different levels, the more motivated they should be.

  1. Act on extrinsic factors

Although intrinsic motivation is essential, the boundary is porous between inner and outer determinants. Since the time Knowles designed its model, research has found that extrinsic motivators have an impact on engagement.

Extrinsic factors that stand out as the most important include: the teaching and learning process, the role of the trainer and the online training environment. Extrinsic factors are of great interest for the design of e-learning as we can act directly on them.

  1. Counteract isolation

In the particular context of online learning, as everyone progresses in their own “space-time,” the feeling of isolation can increase and hinder commitment. But there are effective ways to counteract this risk and even make e-learning more engaging than traditional face-to-face training (see 8 key elements of learner engagement).

  1. Build on quality

This is true for the content as well as for the presentation of the training, and this is a point on which we can not stress enough. The adult audience has a keen eye: the rapid progress of the digital world exposes us to products of an aesthetic quality ever more impressive, and we have become more demanding in this respect. Since much of the learning is done by eye (more than 80%), a banal or poorly designed training will certainly make a bad impression, even if its content is relevant. Whether in the choice of the color palette or the graphical appeal of the illustrations, animated video or filmed scenario, the visuals must be carefully thought out and produced.

Quality must also be the focus of video components: a well-crafted scenario, punctuated by intrigues, which appeal to emotions and in which characters – ideally embodied by professional actors – play realistic scenarios are conditions sine qua non to win an adult audience!

To succeed in any training, the learner must engage in it, and motivation is an essential factor.

Catherine Meilleur

Catherine Meilleur

Creative Content Writer @KnowledgeOne. Questioner of questions. Hyperflexible stubborn. Contemplative yogi.