4 Tips to Consider When Developing Content for Adult Learners

4 Tips to Consider When Developing Content for Adult Learners

April 29, 2019
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One of the most critical considerations when building a successful Customer Education program is developing content that addresses your learners' knowledge needs AND presents the information in a format that is engaging and valuable. While it is common knowledge that different formats appeal to different learning styles of adults, it’s easy to overlook one key factor - the way that busy, modern adults learn is fundamentally different from traditional learning models that were developed for classroom-based formal school instruction.It may seem obvious, but adults do not learn the same way as children. It’s important to keep in mind how adults learnbest when developing content. Because most of Skilljar’s customers focus on adult learning, training, and continuing education, I want to share a few important insights to keep in mind when developing your customer training program.1. Apply Principles of Adult LearningNearly 40 years ago, Malcolm Shepherd Knowles, a pioneer in the study of adult learning, identified five principles that guide how adults learn best, outlined in his now classic work: Andragogy in Action: Applying Modern Principles of Adult Learning. In his research, Knowles found that adults learn best when:

  1. They understand why something is important to know or do;
  2. They have the freedom to learn in their own way or preferred method;
  3. Learning is experiential and is directly applicable to their needs;
  4. The time is right for them to learn (there’s a specific impetus); and
  5. The process of learning is positive and encouraging.

Back in 1985, Knowles acknowledged that “most teachers still do not know how adults learn, and that policies in most educational institutions are inhospitable to the philosophy and process of andragogy [adult education].” So how do we ensure that our Customer Education programs are truly addressing the needs and learning styles of adults? I’ve outlined a few methods below.2. Offer self-paced, on-demand coursesWe’re all busy and it’s more than likely our users are juggling a slew of work- and life-related commitments. By offering coursework that can be completed in a self-paced and on-demand manner, we reduce the pressure on learners to “squeeze in” training. This approach also encourages adult learners to complete courses when they feel they are in the best frame of mind to learn.In a recent Skilljar study, we found that adult learners have an overwhelming preference for online, self-paced training. To the adult learners we surveyed, self-pacing was by far THE most important factor when considering enrolling in a course - more important than the ability to practice hands-on exercises or even having an instructor at all.Self-paced formats also reduce the feeling of being micro-managed. As children in school, we required high levels of guidance and supervision when learning because so much of the information was new to us. However, as adults, we often find such attention stifling at best, and discouraging at worst. Designing a Customer Education program for users to work independently greatly increases the chances of participation and content absorption.3. Tailor content to users’ knowledge maturityAdult learners in the corporate world have very diverse backgrounds and varying experiences. In order for your training and coursework to be effective, it must not only acknowledge these differences, it must also offer learning paths that appreciate this experience and are tailored accordingly. Within every organization, there are a variety of maturity levels that require different types of education, including:

  • New users on new accounts;
  • New users on existing accounts;
  • Existing users (Users who’ve used your product in an earlier role/company) on new accounts; and
  • Existing users who are evolving to become admin-level users.

As Knowles found, adults learn best when they understand why something is important for them and the information is directly applicable to their needs. While it may require more work upfront to create different content tracks for your users, it will ultimately make your program more personalized, engaging and impactful.4. Ensure content is highly relevant In addition to considering users’ experiences and pre-existing knowledge levels, it’s also important that the content you create is directly applicable to their current needs. As children and young adults, much of the content we learned was based in theory. As adults, we need application and practical results to make training worthwhile. Because adults will put more effort into something that has a payoff, learning should achieve one (or more) of the following goals:

  • Make their job easier or more efficient;
  • Help them develop and move towards a promotion;
  • Assist them in completing a high-profile task.

Remember, many learners are voluntary engagers so the best content will accelerate users’ time-to-value and equip them with the information they need to be more successful.Developing impactful content is no easy task and it is certainly an investment, particularly when a customer education program is being created for the first time. But remember, the initial investment will pay out over the long term if the content meets your users’ needs and improves product adoption among your customers.If you’re interested in learning more about about building a successful Customer Education program, download our eBook, Your Guide to Creating a Customer Onboarding Program and view our on-demand webinar: Customer Education Strategy 101: Technology, Content, and Engagement for Success.

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