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What You Need to Know about How Adults Learn

by Jay Palace on August 26, 2020

Team members standing together behind a fence

Are their eyes glazing over? And why is understanding neuroscience as important for executives as it is for leadership development practitioners?

Leadership development has become an essential aspect of successful companies. Executives understand the importance of supporting high-potential teams, often investing in education, webinars, or training sessions.

However, as anyone who has attended a monotonous seminar or a stale off-site can tell you, a commitment to leadership development does not always translate to effective and memorable programs.

Off-site programs are a rare opportunity to bring your team together outside of the office – don't waste it! These experiences should be engaging and illuminating, providing actionable takeaways and “aha” moments designed to build on the strengths of your team and continue their success.

So what is the difference between a tedious workshop where attendees are constantly checking their watches and a high-energy, impactful experience that continues to influence participants long after the activity has ended?

Simply put, delivering an effective program lies in understanding how adults learn. Companies that do not understand the science of adult learning waste hundreds of thousands of dollars by relying on outdated practices and misconceptions about how the brain works.  

Leadership at Scale, written after extensive research by partners at McKinsey, lays out seven neuroscience-based adult learning principles that serve as the foundation of GEL’s off-site programs.  

Successful leadership development efforts: 

  1. Stretch participants outside their comfort zones 
  2. Use self-directed learning and self-discovery 
  3. Apply on-the-job learning to form new skills through repetition and practice 
  4. Provide a positive frame to link positive emotions to learning 
  5. Ensure interventions are strengths-based 
  6. Address underlying mindsets 
  7. Use reflection and coaching to ensure feedback loops 

While these principles can be especially beneficial during half- or full-day facilitated programs, understanding the basics can also be an important tool for leaders working to maximize the talents of their teams on an ongoing basis. Integrating adult learning techniques in regular professional development can cascade the benefits of individual growth across an organization.

Implementing and refining these techniques has provided GEL with a wealth of insights to help clients and their teams cement learning, transform behaviors, and impact business results. The biggest takeaway? Classroom style lectures don’t work.

People learn most effectively through doing, be it on-the-job training or off-site experiences. While on-the-job training is fairly straightforward, the essential component of designing effective off-site experiences that enhance learning is to ensure the activities and results are integrated with real business problems.

Engaging a team in a new experience and fostering an environment that leads to new insights and lasting impact is at the heart of GEL's mission. Connecting the principles of adult learning with company goals and objectives can move an off-site experience beyond simply being a fun activity to serving as a continued growth opportunity for your company’s next generation of leaders.

If you’d like to talk further about our offsite design concepts, you can arrange a conversation with a GEL consultant today. 

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Topics: adult learning