Why Adults Want To Learn

429 - Come back to school

As an adult, what drives you to learn?

Enjoyment? Fun? Growth? Developing new skills? Seeking a new career? Job promotion? Professional certification requirements? New experiences? Supervisor mandates?

All of the above? None of the above?

The Motivations To Learn

ASAE’s research, The Decision To Learn, states that the top two reasons people join nonprofit associations are:

  1. Education and Professional Development
  2. Receiving Cutting Edge Information

According to ASAE’s The Decision To Learn, the driving extrinsic motivation for adults to learn is to increase their job status which then increases their income and social standing in their chosen profession.

Knowing the latest research and how to apply it opens up new opportunities for career advancement. Learning, not information, is important to a better life. Information by itself does not improve one’s life. Knowing information does not improve one’s life. It’s the application of that information and what it means to the learner that’s important.

The driving intrinsic motivation for adults to learn is a general sense of accomplishment.

In order to feed their personal passions about subjects that they have limited knowledge or experience, adults want solutions to their real-world problems and issues. They desire solutions that improve their companies or their professional condition. And they want those solutions provided in provocative learning formats, not the standard boring talking head lectures.

Research Rants Or Relevant Solutions

When you plan education programming, do you remember these two driving motivations? Do you program annual meeting content that helps your customers advance their careers? Does you conference content provide solutions to real-world problems and issues?

Or are you education sessions nothing more than data dumps that force the listener to sift through the junk to find something meaningful to them? Is your conference content just research rants with all the facts, figures, numbers, stats and kitchen sink that learners never get to the root of results?

The learner does not need to hear speakers that recite all the data details. They can read that in a report if they want. What matters to them are the results and how it solves their problems or advances their careers.

During a paid education session, what matters more to you, the relevant results or the data details? Why do so many associations push content that is nothing more than a talking head research rant with very little takeaways?

4 Responses to Why Adults Want To Learn
  1. Terry Coatta
    January 27, 2012 | 7:21 pm

    There is a growing body of research that demonstrates people learn most effectively when solving problems in a hands on fashion. I suspect that the days of education consisting of a talking head trying to beam out information are limited. The logistics of trying to create environments at conferences where people can engage in hands-on learning may be challenging, but I suppose that this could be seen as an opportunity for event planners. For educators, the challenge will be to come up with problems that can reasonably be tackled within constrained time periods, and to effectively ensure that all participants are able to benefit from the expertise of the educator and the experiences of the other participants.

  2. Traci Browne
    January 30, 2012 | 11:49 am

    I agree with you that hands on learning is most effective for really absorbing information for many people (it seems that some people out there need a road map and are incapable of making connections on their own). Others are able to hear someone talk, absorb the information, think about it on their own and apply it to their life. But as far as Associations go I don’t see them making a switch beyond just a few sessions with this format thrown in here and there. They make too much money selling alphabet soup that you can place after your name.

    How do you test whether or not someone is qualified to be a CMP for example. It’s easy to grade tests that are multiple choice answers and show’s the testee knows what the ROI formula is. It’s much harder to test them on how to apply that formula to their meetings and events and weigh them against other efforts.

    There is simply too much money to be made in certifications to see them abandon an information dump model for real learning.

    The other problem with the learning model is, your session proposal system would need a complete overhaul. You’d have to qualify speakers instead of just having them fill out a session proposal listing three takeaways…and whomever has the catchiest title wins.

    I’ll hold out hope but until there is a complete change in behavior at the top, nothing is going to change any time soon.

  3. Jeff Hurt
    January 31, 2012 | 9:39 am

    @Traci
    Certification strategies are changing. Just look at the CME to see what is happening in medical fields. To get the credit, you must show patient behavior change and doctor change. That’s forcing a change in the way the education is done. Lecturing is out, hands on and reflection are in. Yes, it will take a while to infiltrate other certifications and I often say that as medical certifications change, others will follow.

    Here’s another interesting trend that we are seeing with our clients. Often we are called in because the conference revenue is decreasing. As we delve into the details, we find that people are going to a competitor that offers hands on education, or attendees have been requesting a change in education for years and are now leaving because change isn’t concurring occuring, or people are saying the experience is status quo and won’t return. We are seeing a fundamental shift as conference organizers are being forced to make changes and the learning experience gets more attention.

    Thanks for reading and commenting as always too!

  4. Traci Browne
    January 31, 2012 | 10:41 am

    thank you Jeff..you always make me think more about my opinions ;-)

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