Newsletter 606 – Adult Learning: Seminars, Workshops and Courses

Bored students 7It’s no secret that seminars, workshops, and college modular courses are hugely popular. They give quick access to skills and information, provide continuing education and academic credits for professionals or students, and are convenient for people with other demands on their time. These training sessions can be money-makers for cash-strapped colleges and for many who work in the growing adult-education industry. Brick-and-mortar academic institutions are expensive to maintain; modular courses and distance learning are cheaper and often attractive to potential learners.

I’ve learned a lot from teaching modular courses or leading seminars and workshops. This learning never stops but here some conclusions. For each there is at least some published research to support these observations.

  1. Keep aware of your audience. All speakers agree but some forget. I interact with the learners, discussing what they want and need to learn. I request their ideas to help in planning the course or seminar. Then I try to include their input. Usually I ask “What will make this training a winner for you?” In these ways the leader and participants are more engaged in planning and learning together.
  1. Keep it interesting and as practical as possible. Avoid dumping information on participants, especially when they can get this easier without you lecturing. Seminars and modular courses can be incredibly dull and I use an image (see above) to show what we don’t want. Try to avoid those old-fashioned bullet points. Remember that stories and images are more engaging (and probably more often remembered) than seeing dull lists on a screen. Ponder Jesus’ teaching style.
  1. Pay attention to evaluation. This can be the hardest part of teaching. Where do we get the idea that all learning can be measured by numbers or that multiple-choice exams test knowledge rather than one’s ability to memorize or to overcome test anxiety? Depending on the experience and maturity level of the group, I often invite participants to set their own course requirements. Of course we need to heed the requirements of accrediting agencies. Those can set standards although they also can kill creativity and stimulate both busywork and boredom.
  1. Focus on follow-up. Before they leave, ask learners to develop a plan for using or applying their learning. Who will hold them accountable? Without a plan, the seminar notes often land on a shelf and are forgotten.

This is a huge topic with potential for controversy. Please comment.


  1. Hi Gary,
    I like what you have shared here. It follows the current principles on adult learning, which are so logical. In “Creating Significant Learning Experiences”, L.D. Fink (2013) presents his ‘Taxonomy of Significant Learning’. This replaces Bloom’s and seems so effective because it integrates important aspects of an adult’s life, whereby the learning becomes lasting and includes changes that impact the learner’s life. There lies a superior evaluation process that exceeds a numerical or routine route. Thanks again for sharing this important reminder.


  2. Thanks for sharing these helpful insights. I am young in my teaching career and this info will help me as I move towards more opportunities to impact others with the gifts that God has entrusted to me. I want to steward them well. Blessings.


  3. Hi Gary – I’d add one more element to the prep and development of the training and that is being very clear on what you want people to know and do as a result of the training. Maybe this is done in conjunction with the potential audience. Maybe it is something that the trainer needs to decide. Kind of depends on the nature of the training.


    1. You are absolutely right on this, Rob. That is why many distant learning programs, including conference presentations, list in advance what the participants can expect to learn from the seminar or course. These are the “learning objectives.” I wonder how often the end results really match what is promised up front. But it may be that when an instructor comes up with clear learning objectives (sometimes in partnership with the students) then the learning is better and more inclined to reach the stated goals.


  4. Pauline

    Thought you might find this an interesting read. There is a Christian slant but I am sure you can deal with that. As a result of this and reading the comments I found an interesting article that goes with it that I have attached which suggests there is more to it than what Bloom had to say.

    Hope you find this useful.




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