Adult Learning: Content Must Be Meaningful

I have been training adults to ride motorcycles for over a decade. The content is usually the same, but I change my method and approach all the time depending on the group. If they are true beginners, I use one method, if they are experienced I use another.

But what does not change, is the fact that in order to aid adults in learning something new, the content needs to meaningful or relevant. What I mean by that is, to give a ‘why’ to go along with the action or request for action.

It is not enough to say “turn your head and look where you want the bike to end up.” A better way of getting the message across to an adult would be to draw on a previous experience they have had where eyes played an important role.

For instance, do you play baseball? What is the key to making contact with the ball? You have to look the ball into the bat. Most motorcycle training topics like vision, coordination and balance can be related to many sports and activities including riding horses, skiing and playing tennis.

This not only makes them an active participant in their learning process, but it validates their life experiences. Or, in the case of advanced riders, it validates their previous riding experiences. This empowerment changes the mood from teacher/student to facilitator/participant.

In the BRC (Basic Riders Course), we ask students to downshift to first gear every time they come to a complete stop. In my experience, this is something that is frequently forgotten throughout the course. This past weekend I explained to my group why this is a good habit to practice. I gave an example of being stopped at a traffic light; an approaching driver behind you is not slowing down.

If you are in first gear you can immediately get out of the path of travel with no delay. However, if you are in neutral or another higher gear, it will take much longer to react to the situation. After this explanation, all of the riders downshifted to first gear every time throughout the rest of the course, because the content was meaningful. It sounds simple, and it is, but we often forget to attach relevancy onto some of our requests.

In my limited experience teaching children, I have found that they too need a reason why, but since they do not have the life experience to draw off of, they just need to know that there is a reason for asking them to do something. This is why we get away with saying, “because I said so.” That does not work with adults, especially if you want them to retain the information.

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  • Haha! You're becoming an Instructional Designer. Any time you want to work for me, let me know.

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