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Curriculum Design That Engages Adult Learners


The adult learner wants to be an active participant throughout the entire learning process. This means I need to find ways to involve him besides asking him to sit and listen to me lecture or read from a slide show. One sure-fire way to design and deliver training that involves the adult learner is to use a curriculum template created by Robert Gagne known as The Events of Instruction. According to Information Processing Theory these events or steps of instructional delivery align with and facilitate the cognitive processes adult learners engage in when learning something new. Here’s how to design engaging curriculum using Gagne’s model.

The target of learning in this design model is on behavioral outcomes, what we can see someone do. The activities of my curriculum should be carefully scaffolded in order to prepare adult learners to meet the behavioral outcome. As an instructional designer my mantra is to be in ruthless service to my outcome. If an activity doesn’t move the learning forward toward the outcome, it doesn’t get a place in my training design. To appeal to adult learners and to actively engage them in the learning process the outcome should be related to solving a particular problem or meeting a particular need in their personal or work lives.

With the behavioral outcome in place, the content delivery is focused on how the student learns rather than on the information the teacher wants to deliver. When I design with a focus on the students’ need and learning process and not on the trainer’s content expertise, my training can be described as learner-centered rather than teacher-directed. Research has shown that learner-centered instructional delivery is more effective in achieving measurable student outcomes than teacher-directed instructional delivery, regardless of the subject matter being taught.

With my intent focused on the behavioral outcome and my path determined by my learner’s process, I am ready to scaffold activities utilizing Gagne’s template. Here’s how I do that.

Step 1: Gain Attention. These activities are designed to introduce the topic in a provocative way that gains buy-in and interest by suggesting that the training to follow will offer potential solutions to adult-identified issues or problems related to the topic at hand.

Step 2: Stating the Outcome & Sharing the Agenda. Following the attention gainer, sharing the outcome and agenda lets the adult learner know the desired behavioral outcome and what planned activities will help him achieve that outcome. These are reviewed at the start of training because adults have higher efficacy expectations when they know what the intended outcome is for their participation in the session that day. This is also where I invite participants to set a personal learning goal based on the outcome.

Step 3: Stimulate Recall. These activities follow learning goals and are designed to elicit the adult learner’s experiences, knowledge and skills around the topic/skill set for the day. This gives me an idea of where learners currently are in their learning and provides learners with a familiar reference point for adding new information and skills to their existing knowledge base.

Step 4: New Content. Now we are ready for the new content. These activities deliver the novel content through interactive strategies that engage multiple senses while providing graduated (scaffolded) exposure to new skills and material.

Step 5: Guided Practice With Feedback. Following each chunk of new content is a guided practice session. These activities provide opportunities for learners to practice the new skills while being coached by his or her colleagues and me. Learners practice new skills in accessible chunks, get feedback, reflect, and refine their understanding and execution in future rounds of practice.

Step 6: Elicit Performance. These wrap up and review activities are designed to engage the learner in application of the new skill to his personal life and situation. The elicit performance activities are designed in such a way so that successful completion of the performance task will give me a reasonable indication that the learner has the skills and understanding necessary to meet the behavioral outcomes outside the classroom, in the rest-of-life.

Each of the instructional steps is important for creating understanding, building skills, and transferring learning outside of the classroom or training room. It is helpful in my delivery of training to not only have content expertise, but to also appreciate the purpose and type of learning that is taking place at each step of the model and how that activity engages the active participation of adult learners and contributes to their successful achievement of the behavioral outcome.

Source by Tracy Schiffmann

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