Saturday 17 June 2017

Learning: What Stops Adults From Learning?

I wanted to write on this for a very long time.

When I raise this question – what stops adults from learning - I mean anyone in the age group anywhere between 18 to 75 years.

There are many people I know who completely understand the need to learn and are aware how learning will drastically improve their life, take them to their desired goal, however they still make very little progress.

What are the potential barriers that could possibly hinder an adult's learning process? As a coach I have had my days wondering why teaching adults is so different and difficult. 

Let us deep dive here


Teacher centered learning usually applicable for teaching children


Learner centered learning relevant to teaching adults. This is primarily based on a few key assumptions.

Learning with awareness:        Why they need to learn something?
Learning in phases:                  Experiential learning
Learning for outcomes:            Problem solving approach towards learning
The principle difference lies there. The learning depends on the Adult.

Their desire to learn
Their inclination to participate in the learning process
Their reasons to be involved or aloof in learning process

The adults really have an uncanny way of calculating immediate value of anything, even learning and that either triggers interest or kills it.

Examples of their thought process

A training on Robot Process Automation can be a good value add in my career
Why do I need a training in decision making? How will that help? I already make my own decisions?

The adult who is intrinsically motivated does something for his own sake .

What stops adults from learning?

Belief about themselves

If a learner has low confidence, self-conscious and has a negative self-image - a coach has to take care of that image first.


Learners may have fear of under-performing, not learning fast enough, not delivering as expected or feel humiliated in front of others. These fears can affect their learning – a coach has to assure there is nothing to lose if things are going slow and it is okay to deal with real fears not imaginary ones. 

A coach should call out  each fear, discuss consequence and mutually plan the learning map.

2. Physical Challenges

If there is any physical pain that is taking the learner’s focus and attention away, strategize with delivery option to create conducive learning environment.

Example - If sitting for long hours is a concern, provide alternative options to read, provide mail or call support, one on one agenda, micro learn at their own pace to make the most of learner's attention.

3. Training Attended 

If the learner has already attended several trainings and coaching sessions without quantifiable results

If the learner is opinionated and has strong beliefs about training or trainers due to past experience, that could also affect learning curve.

A coach should call out attendance is just the first part of learning, applying what was learnt in real life scenario and achieving results is in the hands of the learner. If there is no change in behavior, the learner has not kept his part of the deal.

4. Life Goals

If the learner does not identify the reasons to learn or the purpose of learning and does not have any goals in work or home life that aligns to that learning, the chances are slim that any learning will actually take place in that case.

They are fundamentally concerned about current needs, quick fix solutions, often get stressed easily and anxious about group participation or any kind of sharing as they lack the vision, many have - beyond now, beyond the immediate.

A coach can establish need or that purpose, provide coping strategies to deal with current issues and ready to handle any crisis that shows up in the future. 

Learner's Ownership

While barriers like language, literacy or numeracy (LLN), foundations skills for being employable and other skills can be refined the four reasons stated above are beyond the purview of a facilitator or coach.
If there is no eagerness on behalf of the learner to cooperate and be self motivated to make the learning exercise effective for their own sake, any learning initiative can be a futile effort.

Coach's Ownership

While preparing the learning road map, it is important to capture learner’s characteristics
 Categorize target learners who have very different and complex needs 
Be sensitive to learner characteristics while choosing delivery option
Develop program content keeping the above in view
Understand impact of learning on self and environment – role in the company, expertise etc.

If you can relate to these scenarios as a learner or coach and want to chalk out learning road map, write to to create one based on BECKON learning framework - A framework that is governed by outcomes and not driven by mere function. 

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