Adult Learning Principles: Incorporating them into the Virtual Classroom

Part 2 of a Two-Part Series – The Virtual Classroom

In the first blog of this series we talked about incorporating adult learning principles in the traditional classroom. This second blog focuses on how to adapt these principles for the virtual classroom.

virtual classroom

Adult Learning Principles are the actions and conditions that support, enhance and promote learning for adults. FKA has identified ten adult learning principles specific to instructors/facilitators that ensure learning happens.

1. Adults must have a reason to learn.

It is much easier for e-learners to tune out, so establishing learner motivation is even more important in the virtual classroom.

  • You must work hard to maintain motivation throughout the session. VIVE works in the virtual classroom too!
    • Variety of presentation methods
    • Interaction – keep e-learners actively involved (See number 3)
    • Visuals are even more important in the virtual environment where e-learners probably won’t be able to see the instructor or each other
    • Examples – relevant examples remind e-learners why the content is important to them

2. Adults must be involved in the learning.

  • Most virtual environments offer several options for e-learners to be involved. Select the most applicable technology for the activity:
    • voice (phone or microphone link)
    • text (chat, annotation)
    • interaction (polls, application sharing and feedback via emoticons)
    • group work (break-out rooms)
  • Try to keep virtual class sizes a little smaller than traditional classes to ensure everyone has a chance to be involved.

3. Adults learn by building on experience.

  • Invite e-learners to share their experiences and examples verbally, one at a time; or all at once using the text tools (chat or annotation tools).
  • Use break-out rooms for small group activities; verbal discussions are easier.
  • Some things that you can do ‘on the fly’ in a physical classroom have to be planned ahead so slides / whiteboards will be ready when needed.

4. Adults learn by doing.

  • Use application sharing to let e-learners practice during online sessions.
  • Longer individual application exercises can be completed between sessions. One of the advantages of virtual training is that learners return to work between sessions. This means they can apply their new skills and knowledge to their own work projects.
  • Make sure you set the learners up to succeed before they leave the session and that they have a way to get help, if needed, between sessions.

5. Adults learn in different ways and at different rates. Adults need a variety of methods.

  • Virtual training environments accommodate different learning styles. Because you are NOT in the same room as the e-learners you have to work a little harder to make sure everyone is keeping up – there are no visual cues to observe.
  • Most presentation and application methods can be used as they are, or adapted to virtual training environments.
  • Use the online time for activities that benefit from facilitation and/or group interaction; convert the other activities to individual assignments to be completed offline.
  • The spacing of the sessions, with time to reflect in between, allows more flexibility to accommodate different learning rates.

6. Adults need a meaningful program.

  • See number 1 above

7. Adults need a safe environment.

For some adult learners, attending an online session may be less intimidating than attending an in-person program – there is some anonymity built in. For others, the technology itself is intimidating, therefore, it is important to:

  • Provide self-directed tutorials on the technology before the first live session, and build a tour of the technology into the start of the first session.
  • Suggest finding a quiet location to use that will be free of work interruptions. (The physical safety of your e-learners is beyond your control.)
  • Protect the psychological safety of learners, respect privacy concerns, as appropriate, and treat everyone with respect at all times. See also number 10

8. Adults appreciate constructive feedback.

  • You can provide the same specific, immediate and constructive verbal feedback to learners during the live session as traditional classroom instructors can do. There is also an opportunity for you to provide individual and private written feedback to e-learners:
    • during the live session using private chat, or
    • for assignments sent in between live sessions.

9. Adults appreciate an informal environment.

All the same effective instructional techniques used in the traditional classroom to create a positive learning environment apply to the virtual classroom. To make e-learners feel comfortable:

  • Use ice breakers and introductions early on.
  • Break the group up into smaller groups to work on their own in virtual break-out rooms, when possible and appropriate.
  • Invite e-learners to raise their virtual hands or use chat and annotation tools to ask questions or add comments, information and examples.

10. Adults appreciate being treated with dignity and respect.

  • Since you can’t see any verbal cues that learners know or don’t know the answer to your questions be careful not to put individuals on the spot. However, it’s important to keep everyone engaged so set expectations early that if there aren’t volunteers for your questions you will call on individuals. Repeat your question if necessary and be supportive if the individual doesn’t know the answer or answers incorrectly. Invite others to help.
  • Start with overhead questions before directing challenging questions to specific individuals.
  • Encourage learners to raise their virtual hands when they want to speak so they don’t interrupt each other.
  • Encourage learners to identify themselves when they speak.
  • Use the learners’ names when addressing them individually.

Interested in finding out more about conducting engaging virtual classes that maximize learning? Check out FKA’s Instructional Techniques for the Virtual Classroom program.

FKA President
Michael Nolan