4 Critical Adult Learning Mistakes Your Organization Can’t Afford To Make

Professionals lead staff training and development

As an educational consultant, I facilitate teacher professional development across the United States and, sometimes, internationally. While there might be consensus in the education field on the importance of using rigorous learning standards to guide instruction, exactly which standards should be used is a matter of heated debate. So, when I once accidentally mentioned in Texas the Common Core State Standards, an eruption of anger ensued. It turns out, Texas passed a law banning it! It was as if I had crossed the Rubicon; there would be no going back. From this point on, no one in this training session was listening to how to break down standards into daily lesson objectives—a process applicable to many standards frameworks. I learned a valuable lesson that day: know one’s audience when training staff.

Across many industries, there should be standard practices to ensure the effective planning and delivery of adult training and development. Staff training facilitators take heed. Failure to adhere to these practices can derail the best-laid professional development plans!

Why should we care? On average, companies spend $1,252.00 per staff member each year on training and development. Training can also be a time investment black hole with 33.5 hours of training per staff member per year being the norm. Despite this investment, 44% of new staff leave within the first six months of a new assignment. To replace these staff members, an organization also can expect to spend 21% of that staff member’s annual salary to replace them.

Here are four critical adult learning mistakes that are common missteps and strategies for steering staff training around these dangerous shallows:

I – Neglecting To Set Learning Outcomes

Man takes notes during staff training and development meeting


How do you know your training achieved its goals if an end target is not established? Although it might be nice to go off-grid and take back roads while driving on vacation, organizations don’t have the luxury in terms of time or money to let staff training go wrong. Like when teachers plan lessons around a stated learning objective, clear success criteria should be established in every staff training. Let participants know what the success criteria will be up front. Better yet, tell participants what they are going to do, do it, and then tell them—or have them tell you—what they did.

During training, monitor how well participants are learning the training material. It is easier to rephrase concepts and to reteach “in the moment” than to have participants leave trainings unprepared thus requiring follow-up staff development down the road. Consider using strategies such as signaling, choral response, and cold calling as checks on understanding. At the end of training, revisit/summarize with participants how the success criteria were met. Be sure to define/record the next steps.

II – Thinking Too Little About Personalization

Woman facilitates staff training and development


Recognize that participants are people who come to staff training at various content readiness levels and with different backgrounds and cultural knowledge. Participants also might be used to learning in a particular way, even if research is now telling us we learn best using multimodal approaches, and/or interacting with internal/external stimuli dissimilarly (introverts vs. extroverts). Facilitators of learning need to meet participants in the zone where they are ready to learn and in ways that engage them in learning.

Provide a story or models when presenting your content that will interest your participants and of which participants have background knowledge. For participants less familiar with the content, training facilitators can provide scaffolds and/or learning supports so that they can meet the established success criteria. For staff who are already knowledgeable about training content, provide different options for professional development.

III – Undervaluing The Impact Of Collaboration

Team collaborates on a work project


Rather than expecting training designers and facilitators to serve as fonts of knowledge, these people should act as learning guides and as curators/collectors of knowledge being acquired during training. Embed collaborative learning activities within the body of any staff training. To focus trainees during collaborative activities, provide training participants with the analytical questions with which they are to engage up front. Determine the discussion protocols that will be used to allow for equal representation of voice and that create collective knowledge around the training topic. Jigsaw activities, Inside-Outside Circle discussions, and quick Think-Pair-Share conversations are three easy ways in which to engage participants in collaborative discussion. There also are more formal discussion protocols out there.

IV – Limiting The Learning Environment

Professionals attend staff training and development meeting


Post anchor charts for tasks, important links, text, infographics, etc. around the room, on Padlet, and/or on Google Drive. Extend learning and support to training participants by using 24/7 virtual discussion boards. Also, consider which training content can be delivered through online courses. Online courses, for instance, that culminate in one earning a digital badge can go some way in breaking down training content into digestible parts, allow people opportunities to complete training on their time schedule, and help organizations validate that staff has met a certain knowledge threshold.

Don’t Be Taken By Surprise

Man and woman talk during staff training and development


Staff training disasters cannot always be prevented. However, staff developers do not have to be blindsided by common staff development pitfalls. If thoughtfully planned out, in the ways discussed above, staff training can be an impactful way through which to increase staff knowledge around their roles and responsibilities as well as your organization.

If you would like additional ideas on how to impact student lives without sacrificing your own, and have a life teaching, check out my quick hack teaching courses here. You can also reach me on LinkedIn.

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