It’s hard for adults to learn – a lesson for corporate trainers

learning-to-ride-a-backwards-bikeDestin is an engineer from Alabama with a YouTube channel called Smarter Every Day.  His video, below, is worth a watch for any trainer.  It reminds us that changing human behavior is a daunting task to undertake especially when that human is an adult.



In this video, Destin tries to learn how to ride a backwards bike.  It’s built in such a way that it turns left when you move the handlebars to the right and turns right when you move the handlebars to the left.   Everyone fails to ride this bike, but Destin is committed to the challenge.

backwards-bikeHe spends 15 minutes a day practicing. He wobbles.  He falls.  He keeps trying. After 8 months he can finally ride the bike with smooth precision.   

Then he gives a backwards bike to his young son, who has been riding a normal bike for over half his life.   His son learns how to ride the backwards bike in 2 weeks.  

I’m not going to pretend I know why this is the case, but it really demonstrates the age-old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” 

But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

It may be easy for kids to learn, but adults have a lot of skills that can compensate for their decline in natural learning ability. They are better equipped to organize their learning.  They can build on their own skills and experiences.  They can muster more motivation that most children.  They also have real-world problems that can be solved through learning, which provides external motivation.

The saying should be, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, if she doesn’t want to learn new tricks.”

It’s a trainer’s duty then, to galvanize the desire to learn in each and every training meeting.  This is especially important in a virtual learning environment.  In many online courses, adult learners are expected to read a few slides, take a few quizzes and then go forth knowing the information and applying it to their daily duties.   But this ‘teaching strategy’ (if you can call it that) doesn’t take into account adult student characteristics or the hard fact that it’s hard for adults to learn and apply new behavior.  As Destin points out, understanding does not equal knowledge.  You can have the knowledge to do something, but without understanding, you are not capable of doing it.

Here’s a great table that takes some adult student characteristics and applies several teaching strategies that work well with adults, created by Patti Shank PhD..  


Take a look at these strategies. Are you able to use them in your online training sessions?  What tools do you have to help you overcome this challenge?  If your virtual classroom limits you, maybe it’s time to get a new web conferencing solution.   There are a lot of ways to can apply these strategies to make your training sessions more successful.  Sometimes you just need the right tools to do it.

With a Free Conferencing Consultation, we can help you find the right solution.  Just a 10 minute call and TEAMINGS guarantees you’ll get something out of it that will improve your online training sessions. 


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