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Customizing Effective Pedagogy for Adult Learning

By May 3, 2019 No Comments
By: Femi Abraham

In recent times, there has been growing anxiety around the impending changes that are bound to happen in the world of work. Various reports released by development organizations speaks to the changes and shift that may occur in skills and competencies required to engage in the work of the future. These changes require reskilling, upskilling and embedding a culture of learning in the current generation of the workforce and more importantly, creating a dynamic pool of talents that will include all age groups.
In this changing narrative of skills and work, the present working-age population is becoming more anxious about its implication on their job prospects. They are constantly asking, where do we fit in the scheme of future work. If the current working-age population is expected to provide the skills and human capital of the next generation, then it is important to adopt strategies that would ensure continuous retraining of this age group.
A right step in this direction is to share effective strategies for developing and implementing adult learning interventions; aimed at providing workers who are not in schools with new and contemporary skills that would make them contribute meaningful value in the world of work. Despite the great promise that adult learning holds for the present and future workforce, developing nations face enormous challenges both in funding adult learning programmes and most importantly designing effective interventions that would yield positive outcomes.
Gathering insights from anecdotal experience from LEAP Africa’s skills development training programmes for employed adults ( Age 24 and above ); ranging from teachers, entrepreneurs, young professionals, etc., this article presents what has worked across training programmes implemented in multiple states in Nigeria and across countries in Africa. It also attempts to answer the question, how best can we design effective pedagogy for adults to develop skills when the brain is less efficient at learning.
Adults face a varying level of stress, either from work, family or from everyday challenges of the society. This contributes to difficulties in learning for an adult and also compromises their capacity to accommodate new knowledge and skills. In addition, there are several demands from an adult, that constraints their cognitive capacity to learn. These constraints must be clearly understood and must be considered during the design and implementation of a skills training programme for this age group.
Knowing your learners
As highlighted by the World Bank Group[1], a major gap in most adult learning interventions is an ineffective diagnosis of beneficiaries realities before training. Effective diagnosis of learners socio-economic realities helps in organizing and curating relevant learning content for beneficiaries. For example, understanding the standard of living, the experiences of learners, the demands from work and family; helps in developing learning content that syncs with their emotional and psychological cues.

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Teacher Mentor (TM) in the Transformative Leadership Program in Ghana.

Personalized learning activities
In terms of delivery, insights from the field of neuroscience[2] help us to understand that practical exercises within training programmes and visual aids helps memory retention in adult learning. For example, in one of the skills development programmes implemented by LEAP Africa for adults, having learners develop & present a business model canvas during a class on entrepreneurship helped learners understand the concept of entrepreneurship and also reinforced the mindset of value creation amongst learners. LEAP also ensures visual aids are placed across the classroom to make learners have a visual representation of concept and framework introduced during training. These visual aids help in strengthening memory retention and recall.

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Teacher Mentors in Kenya engaged in a learning activity during a training session

Embedding games and fun activities have also been helpful in retaining adult learners’ attention during classes. In all training programmes organized by LEAP Africa, games are always introduced periodically during classes; these games are in the form of icebreakers or energizers to sustain the learning momentum at every point in time. In Malawi, we introduced a dance exercise activity during a class session, this helped learners regain their appetite for new knowledge during the class.
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Teacher Mentors (TM) posing with their i

Contextualized training content
The success of an adult learning programme may also depend on how training resources/content are relatable to the everyday experiences of learners. For example, in the African countries where LEAP Africa has cascaded its Transformative Leadership program curriculum for teachers, the team ensured case studies and scenarios were specific and unique to countries where training are being held. Through multiple reviews of training manuals and presentation slides, the team was able to customize content for simplicity and understanding.
Consider your training location
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A training room optimized for adult learning

Distance between training location and the place of residence of learners during the training programme can also pose a significant barrier to learning. This can affect the arrival time of learners to the training venue and also place enormous stress on learners while trying to transport themselves to the training venue. In Malawi, where learners were not accommodated for the training, we noticed most participants had less concentration on learning during evening sessions; as they were more concerned about leaving the training venue early enough to arrive their homes safely.
Prioritize out-of-class/after-training engagements
Skills training programmes can provide motivation for adults if it is tied to future engagements in form of activities that would make them apply what they have learned either through retraining their peers, or exchange programmes that would enable them to put to practice knowledge gained in the classroom. As an example, during a training programme organized by the United States Consulate for teachers in Lagos State, participants showed commitment to all training modules; majorly because they would be mandated to cascade to other teachers within their school. This also made them investigate more about concepts even when they were not asked to do so.
Post-training value
Furthermore, attaching adult training programmes with certification or better information on job opportunities may improve the effectiveness of training programmes; especially when beneficiaries have the potential to climb higher in their career journey.
While all these strategies seem achievable, adult learning intervention is very expensive. From the cost of diagnosing beneficiaries realities, designing programme materials, accommodating learners, to monitoring & evaluating programme outcomes; all these comes with its own cost. For example, In Liberia, even though young women with access to job skills training enjoy higher monthly earnings—US$11 more than the comparison group—the cost of the program is US$1,650 per person.[3] This form of intervention is just one expensive development strategy that may take years to get the right returns.
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A Teacher Mentor (TM) receiving a certificate after training in Ghana

Notwithstanding its cost, Adult learning interventions offer a significant method to readjust the skills of the current workforce to fit the changing nature of work. This requires employing designing thinking strategies that ensure learners gain new and applicable knowledge and skills that can make them continually contribute to the workforce.  Adult learning is even more important to the group of workforce who are developing workers of the future, like teachers or skills development workers.

[1],2 World Bank. 2019. World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1328-3. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO
[3] Adoho, Franck, Shubha Chakravarty, Dala T. Korkoyah, Jr., Mattias Lundberg, and Afia Tasneem. 2014. “The Impact of an Adolescent Girls Employment Program: The EPAG Project in Liberia.” Policy Research Working Paper 6832, World Bank, Washington, DC

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