Adult Learning and Training Workshops – It’s Not an Oxymoron

by Jennifer Miller on April 3, 2019

in Learning, Training Delivery

Adults like to learn. No, really, it’s true.

person with arms crossedIf you’re skeptical of this statement, it’s most likely because you’ve shown up to facilitate a training session and felt like you’ve walked into some sort of hostile takeover situation. There is a way to help turn things around: respect your learner’s adult-ness. By doing this, you will diffuse much of your learners’ dysfunctional behaviors.

Think about it: A training session has the potential the set up a dynamic that feels like, “You’re here because you don’t know something. I, as the facilitator know more than you.” If that’s the vibe, it puts learners in a vulnerable position.  People who feel vulnerable don’t always behave nicely.

OK, so I know you would never say those words, nor do you believe them.
Here’s the thing: people have had some unfortunate experiences in a learning environment, going as far back as kindergarten and continuing right up to that deadly boring Safety Training class last week. As soon as the participants walk in the door, you are working against preconceived notions about what it means to be in a learning environment.

Whether or not you as the facilitator know more than the participants isn’t the point.  The point is for the learners to hear you acknowledge that they are smart and have experiences worth hearing about. That’s respecting their adult-ness.

True, some folks show up to training acting more like a belligerent three-year old than an adult.  Look past this.  Treat them like the grown-up you know they can be and soon enough, they will come around.  Maybe they won’t be all smiles and enthusiastic participation, but they also will not be sabotaging your every move during your learning session.


  1. Greet every person by name, look them in the eye and shake their hand. It’s difficult for someone to be a jerk if you’ve created a personal connection with them.
  2. Early in the session, find a way to acknowledge their experience.
  3. Trainers never come out looking good in a debate. If someone contradicts your suggestion, ask, “How would you handle it?”
  4. Relate on their level—literally. Sit down in the front of the room or kneel down next to their table when talking with them.  Don’t hover over them. It’s too reminiscent of school and teacher-as-ultimate-authority memes.

So, the next time you’re faced with learners who resistant to training, stifle your urge to “show ‘em who’s in charge”. Instead, take a deep breath and do some role-modeling of adult behavior. They just might surprise you and follow your lead.


Note: this post is a modified version of a chapter I contributed to an e-book called What We Teach, How We Learn compiled by Benjamin McCall. The book is now out of print, so I reproduced my content here on The People Equation.

Updated 2019


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