The Training Page of Volunteer Today has practical trainer techniques and activities to make orientation sessions more productive and valuable. There are also ideas to help enhance the professional volunteer managers training level.

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~ October 2002 ~ Topics
  • Learning Theory Made Easy
  • Quick Training Tips
  • Learning the Lingo

Learning Theory Made Easy

There are a wide array of learning theories for the serious student of adult learning and teaching; andragogy, behaviorism, cognitivism, and social learning to name a few. But what do these theories boil down to in a practical sense when you are teaching grown-ups. Here is a quick list of things you should know about how people learn.

  1. Learning works best when it is based on previous experience. It is the building block principle.
  2. Most people have a notion of how they learn, that can work both for and/or against the trainer.
  3. Reactions to training are influenced by expectations. Trainees arrive with expectations about the trainer, other learners, the format, and the material to be covered.
  4. Intense emotional experiences impact the lasting quality of information.
  5. Adults vary widely in the way they learn; one type of training does not work for everyone in a class.
  6. When a learned behavior is rewarded, it will be repeated.
  7. Learners need practice and feedback in order to store information in long-term memory and they need to do it more than once.
  8. Different types of learning require different teaching strategies and methods.
  9. The vast majority of adults are self-directed learners.
  10. Adults use a variety of different methods to assess the learning experience.
  11. Skills and knowledge are mastered at the level of expectation established by the trainer. If learners are expected to demonstrate a proficiency in a skill during the training (not just afterward), they will work hard to meet the expectation.
  12. Learning takes place more often when the learner sees it as connected to his/her life and or work. It is real.
  13. Learners seek symmetry in the learning environment - there needs to be congruence or alignment between the learning objectives, the content, activities, and assessment techniques.
  14. Passive learning activities - listening and reading are significantly less effective in teaching adults than more active methods such as discussion and practice.

Quick Training Tips

Begin each session with an agenda and estimated time line. Adults like to know what they will be doing when and for how long. When they have an idea of time and topic, they are more comfortable moving on to content.

Let learners know they may interrupt or ask questions at any time. Give a prize to the first person that actually does it.

Stop during a presentation. Wait 15 - 30 second. Look around. Ask if there are questions.

Learners need to dictate the pace of a class. Go too fast and they absorb nothing, go to slow and they are bored and not absorbing. Learn to judge the learners pace, not what is "required."

Do reviews at the end of all training sessions. Simple questions: "What did you learn today?" "If someone asks you what you learned in this class, what will you tell them?" In a long class reviews are appropriate at logical points between topics.

Learning the Lingo

Many organizations have their own terms or lingo that volunteers must learn to perform effectively. Here is an interactive and funny way to test the lingo quotient of new volunteers.

  1. Begin by making a set of "lingo cards" with acronyms and definitions or terminology and definition common to the organization. Put them on various colors of 5X8 cards. Organize the cards into groups of 6 - 8.

  2. Put people in class so each group has 6 - 8 cards with terminology listed. Provide each person in the group with the same color and style of 5X8 cards. Have them write definitions for each of the terms assigned to their group. The terms should be on an easel paper list on the wall.

  3. When the group members are done writing their terms and definitions, mix the correct answers with the member's definitions. Have a member of the group read the definitions and ask the group to decide which is the correct answer. The reader of the definitions needs an answer key.

This activity brings laughter (there is a correlation between laughter and learning), the right definition, and the opportunity to review the needed terminology.

October 9-12, 2002 - International Conference on Volunteer Administration, Denver, CO, Adams Mark Hotel, sponsored by the Association for Volunteer Administration.

Close to 200 colleges and universities offer academic programs on nonprofit and volunteer sector management. They are usually master's degree programs, but not always. American Humanics sponsors undergraduate programs, as well. If you are looking to push out the professional development window, consider taking a course at one of these colleges. A full list resides at Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

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