Customizing training for adult learners

How can safety professionals customize their training programs to keep employees interested and engaged?

Responding is Tom Lally, director of training and compliance, Cintas Corp., Cincinnati.

Safety compliance training is an essential component of every workplace safety program. However, employees who have been through training programs multiple times can find material repetitive or may not retain information crucial for maintaining job safety. To help make training more compelling, translate adult learning principles into practice by considering the following:

  • Make learning relevant. Provide job-related examples and hands-on practice to demonstrate how the lesson fits into the workplace. The key for any trainer is to find an internal switch in the trainee that responds to the question, “Why should I respond to this information, and how does this impact me?”
  • Build off existing knowledge. Relate lessons first to prior knowledge, and then move into new information.
  • Let participants set the pace. If training is conducted in a group setting, incorporate competitions and team games to ensure full participation and comprehension, as well as independent activities such as written assignments and quizzes.
  • Get to know the group. Facilitate discussions to learn more about participants’ past experiences and knowledge of the topics being discussed. This will help steer the training and identify participants who can add value to the discussions.
  • Encourage ongoing learning. Create follow-up activities to be used on the job so information stays fresh and relevant. Direct and purposeful experiences are proven to have the highest impact on adult learners. It is imperative to put the training into practice as soon as possible.

Use this knowledge of adult learning principles to create customized training programs for your workplace. Training programs based on adult learning styles help to better engage employees with their instructor and the material. The following training solutions help to accommodate the various learning styles:

  • Instructor-led/classroom: Bringing subject matter experts to your jobsite provides flexibility and allows students to engage directly with the trainer. With small groups, employees receive hands-on experience – an important factor for kinesthetic learners who like to interact with the information being presented. Instructors also can appeal to visual learners, who prefer illustrations and images, and auditory learners, who process information best when it is read aloud to them. In fact, adults remember 80 percent of material when hearing, seeing and practicing is combined. Creating lectures that incorporate graphics, handouts, discussions and participatory training will help to fulfill most learners’ needs.
  • Online training: Increasingly, companies are using online training in their safety programs because it provides cost-savings and convenience. These easy-to-use courses allow employees to work at their own pace and complete training off-site, at home or at work, increasing flexibility. Online formats also use quizzes to test employee retention and comprehension. Recordkeeping systems track employee progress and completion. Online recordkeeping is a great alternative to manual spreadsheets or handwritten logs.
  • DVD training: DVD programs provide supplemental materials for training curriculums. Videos cover a wide array of topics and comply with OSHA standards when combined with written programs and recordkeeping. Visual and auditory learners especially will retain information presented in video formats, provided that videos are periodically refreshed. Consider holding discussions after DVDs are shown to encourage critical thinking and demonstrate applicability of topic in the workplace.

In summary, create blended training programs that are adaptable to different adult learning styles and use a combination of instructor-led, online and DVD training to accommodate these learning styles, as well as the needs of your business. Varied training formats keep lessons fresh and ensure that employees receive information through lectures, visual formats and hands-on experience.

Editor’s Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as National Safety Council endorsements.

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)