Thursday, November 10, 2011

Humor in Adult Learning

By Al Norval

We in the Lean community have a unique challenge. We need to be both students as well as teachers at the same time. While we are rapidly learning and applying many new things, we have an obligation to teach others in our work groups or organizations what we have learned. Part of this is the concept of Yokoten, the rapid sharing of information laterally throughout the organization. This requires a mature Lean organization with systems and structures developed to ensure this happens. More on the topic of Yokoten in a later blog.

For today, I wanted to talk about teaching and adult learning. Adults learn differently from children. Kids are sponges for information. Adults on the other hand are full up or overloaded with information. In order to learn, adults have to replace what they have previously learned. To make matters more complicated, adult retention of things they have learned can be as low as around 10%.

In summary, adults are tougher to teach and retain less of what we teach them. This makes it tough for us in the Lean community to fulfill our role as a teacher.

What are some possible countermeasures to this?

The first countermeasure is “Learn by Do”. The act of applying the learning drives it deeper and makes it real. But what is it about “Doing” that drives higher learning and retention? Because people are involved in “Doing”, their brains create more neural connections with the activity than with just passive listening to a talk about the subject. The more active the participation, the more neural connections are formed and the higher the learning and retention. That’s why just listening to lectures has low learning while Learn by Doing has a much higher retention rate of the learning.

But how to drive the learning even higher?

The first is to teach others. We learn by teaching. After all, you’ve got to know a subject before you can teach it. Nothing tests your knowledge of a subject as much as trying to teach others.

Lastly, adults learn best when the learning environment is light and has some humor. Again we can see how humor creates more neural connections by triggering emotions and so enhances the learning experience.

How to add humor to the learning environment – through the use of images. Not all of us are comedians so we need props. Images with a light, humorous touch provide that and help create a learning environment that is conducive to adults both learning and retaining what has been taught.

Putting this all together, a process of a little training using light images, followed by doing, followed by rapid feedback creates rapid learning cycles that drive home the key learning points in adults. Practicing these ourselves enables us in the Lean community to fulfill our mission as being both students and teachers.

For more information on the use of Lean images to add some humor into your training, visit the Lean Pathways Shop.

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