WHEN was the last time you had to do something because you had no choice? Like changing a dirty diaper, cooking a meal or putting together a PowerPoint presentation?

You learnt to do any of these tasks because you needed to or wanted to. This is the premise for adult training.

An effective trainer must differentiate andragogy (adult learning) from pedagogy (child learning).

He must understand the conditions under which adult learners learn best.

Adult versus child

Adults learn because they want to. Children learn because they are led to do so.

In schools, educationists and teachers are regarded as the experts who determine what, when, how and where the children learn.

Adult learners are referred to as participants while child learners are called students.

Adult training is problem-focused. Adults are the sources of case studies that trainers use, whereas in a classroom, teachers are the primary sources of information.

Adult learners focus on practical solutions to real-life problems facing them in the working world today.

Child learning is based heavily on acquiring proficiency in a variety of disciplines and gaining knowledge about the world they live in.

What adults need

Dr Malcolm Knowles is known as the "Father of Andragogy". In his book, The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species, he made several assumptions that underscore the role of the trainer:

* Adults need to understand why they are learning before they invest their time and money in training. The earlier they know the purpose, the better. Trainers must help them understand the purpose of their learning.

* The responsibility of learning rests with adults. They are self-motivated and self-directed in learning. However, trainers need to help them identify their training needs.

* Adults attend training sessions armed with many years of working experience. They are loaded with many examples and perspectives to contribute. A good trainer capitalises on the experiences of his participants.

* Adults are ever ready to learn skills that can help them cope with life. So training must be as relevant and practical as possible.

* Adults are willing to learn when it helps them solve problems faster or perform tasks easier. The trainer must determine their needs and develop content to assist them in reaching their objectives.

* Adults are motivated more by factors like increasing self-esteem than external motivators such as higher salaries. So the trainer must ensure that there is a conducive learning environment with sufficient time and enough activities that will raise the participants' self-esteem.

Essential steps

At the start of the workshop, a trainer must introduce himself to the participants. This breaks the ice and creates rapport.

The trainer must also create a safe environment where participants can learn without any fear of embarrassment. A comfortable workshop room will make learning easier.

Learning objectives must be crystal clear. Content, exercises and games must be directed to meet the objectives.

Content must be relevant, practicable and transferable to adults.

Remember, adults come to learn to cope with life or solve its problems. They want practical answers to today's challenges.

Respect and interact

Throughout the duration of the course or workshop, the trainer must invite his participants to contribute and, at times, allow them to lead.

Encourage participation. Divide the participants into small groups to overcome any fear or resistance to share ideas.

Use positive body physiology. A smile is the trainer's cheapest, most portable and effective invitation tool to create rapport.

Maintain eye contact with participants all the time. Nod your head to convey that you understand their concerns.

A good trainer should facilitate more than he lectures. Simply giving a lecture on a topic is the least effective tool a trainer can employ.

Studies have shown that after two weeks, participants barely remember 5 per cent of what they heard in a lecture.

An effective trainer encourages discussion between participants and himself, and among one another.

He solicits ideas and views from participants before stating his. Sharing his personal experiences is an integral part of the training.

Lastly, the trainer knows that confidentiality must be respected. A golden rule to follow is: "What's said in the room, stays in the room."

If the trainer treats his participants with respect, they will reciprocate accordingly, and the training session will be a useful learning experience for everyone.