Human Learning Theory… for All Ages!

All projects require learning of some kind – to work with a new team, to understand new processes, and/or to use new systems. As managers lead teams through the learning process, they can draw upon learning theories such as andragogy, constructivism, behaviorism, and cognitivism. But in the interest of time and simplicity, I suggest looking to kindergarten.

My son just started kindergarten, for which I volunteer occasionally. I spend an hour sitting in a tiny chair at a tiny table listening to his teacher explain what the class will do. As she describes the methods and techniques she uses, I can’t help observe the parallels to how I have trained adults:

  1. Start with simple concepts and build from there. The children start with one letter. They master its sound and shape, then move to the next. Rarely can anyone, child or adult, handle big new concepts all at once. We break it down into manageable chunks of information to build upon.
  2. Reinforce previous concepts. Every few days, the children add a new number to their practice, but each day they write them all starting at zero. As you build on early concepts, we can’t leave the first in the dust! We connect each new concept to the previous so the basic knowledge becomes embedded in the memory.
  3. Connect and weave topics together. The kindergarten teacher sometimes pauses while reading a story to ask a number related question such as “How many pigs’ houses have been blown over so far?” We seek connections between topics to further reinforce other lessons.
  4. Relate topics to what the learner cares about. My son comes home weekly with drawings of his new baby kitten with the word “cat” written below in his rapidly-improving scrawl. It’s all about the WIIFM! (What’s In It For Me?). Learners learn best when they care about the topic.

To sum up, the discipline of learning and development is vast and complex but at the most basic level, learning is strikingly similar among all humans regardless of age and topic. Just remember: Start simple; Reinforce as you go; Create connections; and Find the WIIFM!