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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 manager's training level.

~ November 2006 ~ Topics

Training Adults: The Basics

Training Adults: The Basics

Training is an everyday occurrence for most managers of volunteers. Sometimes it is in the classroom, more often than not, it is in a small group or one-to-one. Being caught up in the daily activities of training can make one forget the basics when it comes to adult learning. This is a short refresher on the motivation to learn, tips on planning training, and classroom behavior.

Adult Motivation to Learn

  1. Life changing events are opportunities for training. Change is stressful and the grown-up seeks information to help cope with the experience. Participation in training is one way that happens
  2. Adults want training to relate directly to their life.
  3. Adult volunteers participate in learning only so long as it meets their needs and is relevant to the new position or task.
  4. Maintaining a sense of self-esteem and fun during training are strong secondary motivators for engaging in learning experiences.

Planning Training

  1. Adult are less interest in the history and philosophy of the organization than they are in the specifics of expectations and duties.
  2. Adults need to be assisted in integrating new experiences and information with old learnings.
  3. When information received conflicts with long held views, the new information is slower in being adopted by the adult volunteer.
  4. Pacing of learning activities needs to be related to the complexity of the information to be conveyed and the age of the volunteers.
  5. Volunteers are often slower in learning some psychomotor tasks but compensate by being more accurate and making fewer trial-and-error mistakes.
  6. Adults tend to take errors personally and are more likely to let them affect self-esteem. Therefore, they tend to apply tried-and-true solutions and take fewer risks.
  7. Training courses for volunteers must take into account the different viewpoints of adults at different life stages.
  8. Adults prefer self-directed and self-designed learning projects over group-learning experiences led by a professional, they select more than one medium for learning, and they desire to control pace and start/stop time.
  9. Adults are increasingly using the Internet and programmed instruction to acquire information. Not all training needs to be "trainer" led.
  10. Volunteers are after direct "how to" information.
  11. While self-directed learning is a preference of adults, it does not mean learning alone. Effectively planned small group or team projects in training, where the learner interacts with the content, is one of the most effective methods of teaching adults.

The Learning Environment

  1. The learning environment must be physically and psychologically comfortable; long lectures, periods of interminable sitting and the absence of practice opportunities rate high on the irritation scale. Food, beverage, and nearby parking and bathrooms, if absent, can impact the effectiveness of training for the learner.
  2. Adults are nervous in any new learning experience. If there previous experience in formal education was less then rewarding, he/she is putting their ego on the line to just participate. Early success in the training can help allay fears of most adults.
  3. Volunteers arrive at training with expectations. Clarify what is happening, have an agenda, state the learning objectives. This must happen before the content is presented.
  4. Adults bring a great deal of life experience into the classroom, an invaluable asset to be acknowledged, tapped and used. Adults can learn well -and much - from dialogue with respected peers.
  5. Open-ended questions are a way to draw adult learners into dialogue with the instructor and their peers.
  6. Adults have to integrate new information with the old. That happens for an adult most efficiently when the student is an active participant in the activities in the classroom.
  7. Integration of new knowledge and/or skills requires time. Follow-up with volunteers is essential.

We now have downloadable books available in PDF format. Check out our online bookstore for Handling Problem Volunteers by Steve McCurley and Sue Vineyard now available electonically. Details for Handling Problem Volunteers Book

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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 http://tltc.shu.edu/npo/. Thank Roseanne Mirabella, of Seton Hall University for keeping up with this list.

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