If you think it’s easy to train adults, think again.

We come with a whole set of learned habits, behaviors and traits that make us a challenging target for any trainer or coach. To teach an adult new skills and knowledge, you need to first understand how adults learn.

When thinking of trainings, we usually think of schools, universities, seminars and courses. The problem with this approach is that all of them are designed for young students. With age we change and we develop certain behaviors and impulses that distinguish us from who we used to be at 12 or 16. And so the way we learn changes too.

The main difference in learning between kids and adults is:

Kids learn for the future. Adults learn for the present.

In other words, when you were a kid, you were learning all tons of subjects, because ‘you will need them in the future‘. But adults are not motivated by it. They are already in their future, they have made decisions that in most cases have determined where they will be for the next 10 or 20 years. They are dealing with problems in the here and now. Solutions to these problems are what they are looking for in a training.

So how exactly do adults differ from youngsters?

1. Adults are influenced by prejudice

Prejudice is a learned attitude toward members of a particular group. At the base of a prejudice lies a stereotype, or a mental shortcut. With time, we are exposed to more and more stereotypes, which are not necessarily bad, as they allow us to function effectively in an environment where we are continuously flooded with new information and details.

2. Adults are cautious and conservative

We all create routines in our lives. The difference for adults is that they’ve had more time to follow these routines, which have therefore turned into strong habits. To change them, it requires a lot of energy and effort.

Keep in mind also, that if an adult has been doing something for years, they’ve had enough time to be reaffirmed by others and develop the internal certainty that their behavior is right. They will be cautious about any new ideas. After all, if they haven’t heard of the new idea in all those years, there must be a reason for it!

3. Adults fear change

It’s not that adults will resist any change, but at this age a change has strong psychological implications. A change essentially means that whatever an adult has been doing till now is not efficient and so it requires that an adult admits they were wrong. That’s where the difficulty lies. Nobody likes to admit they are wrong. On the contrary, our need to be right and accurate is considered to be one of the main drivers of human behavior. It can make us extremely resistant to changes.

Now that you know how adults differ in trainings from youngsters, let’s look at how a training should be designed to be efficient. 


Here are 8 rules for an effective training for adults:

1. Content must be relevant to participants

Adults learn to solve their current issues. Make sure that the topic of the training is directly relevant to the participants’ current situation. You need to understand what they are looking for: what types of solutions and what types of problems. State course’s objectives clearly. During the course, always relate the new knowledge to situations your participants are trying to solve. No abstract solutions – you need to use concrete examples.

2. Use easy-to-understand language

No matter what you train about – use a simple, everyday language. Your content must be user-friendly. Remember, training is for participants, not for the trainer to show how much knowledge they have. You want your message to get through, so make sure you don’t get too technical or use too many details. Keep in mind that not many adults will admit they don’t understand you.

It’s been proven in various researches that when a person uses simple language they are perceived as experts, people trust them more and are more willing to follow their ideas. Using complicated and complex language causes opposite reactions.

3. Use humor in your training

Humor is a perfect way to help participants relax, which is essential for adults to learn effectively.

Generally it is advised to avoid any jokes related to sports, politics and religion. You need to be extra careful when you train people from different cultures as sense of humor can significantly differ from one country from another. Avoid racist or any other stereotype-based jokes. You goal is to ease the atmosphere, not to put someone down or disrespect them.

4. Avoid prejudices

As adults are easily influenced by prejudices, you need to work on 2 things: eliminate your own prejudices and limit those of participants. Don’t make any comments that could in any way bring a person’s self-esteem down. Refrain from sexist, political or racist comments.

5. Consider participants’ own experience and knowledge.

Adults who come into a training bring a vast range of experiences and knowledge. They weren’t born yesterday – they know things, they have been doing them for years. When you train adults ask them to recall their own experience and train from there.

Ask participants to share their knowledge. When training adults, every participant is also a trainer. Very often people decide to take part in a training not because they want to learn new skills from a trainer, but because they want to meet other people and learn from their experience. Allow and facilitate that in your training.

6. Trainings must be active.

The average adult’s attention span is about 30 minutes. That means that no matter how interesting your topic is, you are likely to lose your participants after half an hour.

Solution? Activities. Incorporating activities in your training will help participants stay focused and attentive. Make sure you plan something every 30 minutes. It can be something as easy as asking everybody to stand up and jump 10 times, or something directly relevant to the agenda of the training (team work, presentation, etc).

7. Respect social roles

Every adult holds many different social roles, such as: parent, spouse, boss, employee (graphic designer, manager, accountant), tennis player, traveler, etc.

Some of those roles are essential to our identity. It is important not to undermine any of them.

8. Respect the time

Adults have many things to do, they are always in a rush to do something or go elsewhere. If they attend the training, it means that they have dedicated the time to fit it in their schedule. Respect it. They most likely have a to-do list they need to get back to the second the training is over.

If for whatever reason you don’t manage to finish your training on time, ask your participants if they prefer to end it then or have you continue.