You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks 3

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it. The trick is, find out how to make him thirsty. Team leaders, supervisors and managers will be judged not by what they know, but by their ability to teach someone else. But trust me – teaching someone else what you know isn’t easy. If that was the case, superstar athletes would go on to have superstar coaching careers after their playing days were over. And we know, in most cases – that just doesn’t happen.

Answer this question: If you understood how I like to receive and process information and how I prefer to be taught, and if you applied what you knew about my learning preferences, would it make the teaching experience more enjoyable for you and for me? Would I be more receptive to what you were saying and therefore more likely to try? We both know the answer would probably be a resounding yes! Some Adults learn differently – therefore you need more than one teaching style.

Adults Can Learn New Things

Adults can learn new things – given the right set of circumstances in an environment that is conducive to learning. Think of ways that you could apply these five principles of adult learning to create a positive learning experience.

  1. Adults learn when they understand why something is important to know or to do. Make sure everyone understands the “why” in what you are trying to teach them. They may not agree, but they need to know your reasoning. And it can’t be just because you said so. You are working with adults here – not children. (Although, I don’t think saying “because I told you so” works with children anymore either. At least not in my world)
  2. Adults learn when they have the freedom to learn in their own way. Try and incorporate all of the senses in your approach to ensure learning has taken place. Remember that visual learners rely on pictures, auditory learners listen to what is being said, and kinesthetic learners need to  physically do something to fully understand what it is you are trying to teach them.
  3. Learning is experiential. Adults like to relate or link new knowledge to past experiences. Any activity that gets your learner involved makes that learning experiential. Group discussions, role-playing, building something – any activity at all will work. Activities are also a great way to keep people energized and engaged, especially activities that involve getting up and moving around.
  4. The time is right for them to learn. There is an old Buddhist saying: “When the Student is ready, the Teacher will appear”. Adults like to learn in their own time. And what they learn must be relevant and applicable. Adults, for the most part, only want to know what they need to know and only when they need to know it. They aren’t looking to stockpile information on the chance that they might need it in the future. (Unless they are a huge fan of Trivial Pursuit.)
  5. The process is positive and encouraging. As a teacher you are trying to get people to step out of their comfort zone into the growth zone. Be very mindful of the fact that they are most likely trying something for the very first time. They are going to make mistakes.They need to know that you aren’t going to zap them when they do. They need to know that they can trust you, that you won’t belittle them in front of their peers. And they need to know that they can ask you a question – no matter how trivial you might think it is – and you’ll answer it without sarcasm. Teachers need to have patience in spades because some people learn quicker than others.

Be their biggest fan. Cheer them on with each small victory by praising their performance and giving them words of encouragement. If you truly want them to be successful, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t – then your praise and words of encouragement will sound sincere. Adults can tell when you’re being condescending and insincere. They don’t like to be patronized. 

Worth Remembering …  “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I will learn.” – Benjamin Franklin


  1. HI Brian,
    I loved your list and agree totally. For me, Need to Know learning is often the most successful because there is an issue, deadline or reason for me to seek out the instruction. I also learn best in little chunks of time. Learn, apply. Learn, apply.


  2. Pingback: Learn Just One Thing | Inside Out Cafe

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