Understanding the adult learning process will enhance communications in your company
By Rochelle Lamm, for SBT
Over the past decade, brain scientists and education researchers have come to understand that in much the same way that personalities differ from person to person, the same holds true for adult learning styles.
Each adult’s brain is uniquely "wired" and absorbs, processes and retains new information in the way that best suits his/her individual needs.
That distinction, along with such variables as natural abilities, personal and work experiences and formal education determine each person’s individual learning style and ultimately determine how each person learns best.
Understanding the learning process can be critical to helping business owners react to the challenges that await them.
Unlike children, who learn new things with relative "clean slates," adults do not learn or make decisions in a vacuum. They build bridges between what they already know and the new information they need to learn, making an adult’s mindset a critical part of the learning process.
In fact, educators estimate that identifying and unblocking mindset obstacles can account for as much as 50% of an adult’s ability to receive, retain and use new information.
While every adult learner does not necessarily fit into a textbook learning style, for scientific purposes, a group of leading educational researchers divide the population into four main modes of learning.
— Type One learners need to know "Why is this important to me?" Type Ones learn best when they are able to sense and feel information, talk about it extensively with others, connect it to past experiences and then reflect on its importance.
— Type Two learners want to know "What are the facts?" Type Twos learn best when they are provided scientific research and data. To learn, they need the opportunity to step back and reflect on the material they are presented and develop theories based on what they observe and think.
— Type Three learners need to know "How is this practical?" Type Threes learn best when they are able to establish how something is useful or practical.
— Type Four learners want to know "What if I do this?" Type Fours learn best by experimenting with new information to try it out for themselves.
Despite varying learning styles, educators have determined that all adults are consistent in how they can improve the retention of information. The learning process begins with hearing. When a concept or information is verbalized, the listener’s brain "fires up" certain connections – or synapses – between cells.
The more frequently a learner hears that particular information, the more stable that connection becomes, until it’s finally "hardwired" into his or her brain. Remembering begins to occur and information is stored and passed along to the short-term, mid-term and long-term memory and finally to long-term storage, where it is permanently placed in the listener’s memory bank.
Just listening, though, does not translate into meaning and purpose. The learner must also understand information in order to use it. Empirical research suggests that adults recall only 10% of a presentation they heard just 48 hours before. For example, most members of an audience that a presenter "wowed" two days ago are likely to forget 90% of the information given to them later in the week.
Communication breakdowns can have devastating consequences for business people, especially sales professionals. Their success is predicated on an ability to make a lasting impression on a prospect or client, so it’s imperative that information conveyed during presentations and meetings can be understood, retained and converted into action plans.
Fortunately, retention rates can improve to 50% if adults are encouraged to take the right kind of notes and 75% if prompted to engage in a dialogue about what they have heard.
Many educators and neurological scientists conclude that adults’ brains process, sort and store pictures better than they do words. Rather than traditional note taking, they advocate "laser note taking," a process that involves associating key words and phrases with images that free the brain to focus on learning only the most crucial information.
In order to retrieve information 48 hours later, an adult learner must also have the opportunity to talk about what he or she has just processed. Talking moves information along the neural pathways – or four stages of memory – in the brain.
Neurological researchers have demonstrated that learning is a multi-stage process that transfers information along a continuum from simple facts to more complex concepts. Each stage of learning and comprehension must be mastered before the next one can take place.
To move from simply knowing to actually doing, however, the learner must ask questions that require progressively higher levels of thinking. Those questions can stimulate and accelerate the learning process by taking the learner from a basic level of knowledge to an advanced plane of understanding. This exercise trains the brain to retrieve the right information at the right time.
Rochelle Lamm is the chairwoman and CEO of The Academy of Financial Services Studies and Precision Marketing Partners, Milwaukee. She recently co-authored Understanding How Adults Learn: A Wholesaler’s Ultimate Competitive Edge, a publication that is available by calling 414-961-7776.
May 30, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee