“What is planted in people is more important than what is poured into them” (Alinda Nortje, Founder and CEO of Free To Grow)

Forward-thinking companies typically host many interventions for their employees (workshops, dialogue groups, seminars, e-learning platforms, coaching, etc.) to accelerate learning and grow the knowledge base of the business. Whilst these attempts are worthwhile and do provide learning opportunities, some of these initiatives unfortunately fail on account of a lack of understanding of adult learning principles and a training methodology that only aims at cerebral stimulation. Whilst addressing the brain’s logic and reasoning ability is a form of learning engagement, there are so many other sensory approaches to learning for adults that could be utilised to accelerate learning and make it stick. Even Confucius (451 BC) recognised the need to involve the whole person in learning: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”.

Alinda Nortje, Founder and CEO of Free To Grow, has spent the past 30 years designing and presenting training interventions for adults that change minds and shift behaviour – in other words, learning materials are presented in such a way that learners, for the most part, experience personal transformation. The programmes she has designed have been presented in more than 1 260 organisations in 32 countries. Through experience (trial and error) and extensive research (initially with farm labourers, but now with thousands of managers and employees from a variety of business sectors), Nortje has identified five key principles that potentially erase the typical challenges faced in any adult learning situation, namely, gaining and keeping attention and helping learners understand and remember so that they will be able to apply what they have learned. This is represented here in a simple “ERASE” mnemonic:

  1. Emotion – feelings determine both the quality and quantity of one’s learning (negative feelings inhibit and positive feelings accelerate it). Arnold Bennet notes: “There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of the truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul”. The ability to learn, retain and use information isn’t just based on our raw IQ – our overall emotional state has a major impact on how well we, as adults, learn new things.
  2. Relevance – the brain can absorb plenty of information and sensory input, but there is a point where it becomes overwhelmed. Learners who regard the information as relevant and meaningful learn much better than those who see it as irrelevant and uninteresting, even if a big load.
  3. Attention – this requires focused concentration and is a prerequisite for brain neurons to be activated and neural networks to be forged. This is an energy-intensive process, so the brain needs down-time at regular intervals to rest and refocus. A variety of training methods should be used to capture attention.
  4. Structure – learning content should be structured in such a way that it becomes easy to remember and apply, following a step by step and bit by bit approach. Time for reviewing the material and self-reflection should be built into the programme structure.
  5. Engagement – involving as many senses as possible to make learning engaging on many levels – somatic (or tactile, hands-on), auditory, visual and intellectual. When exercises are debriefed, discuss both the intellectual (facts) elements and the feelings generated amongst participants. All good learning has a social base – we learn markedly more and deeper when interacting with others.

Making adult learning spark should be the focus of every company – to get a good return on investment, e-learning platforms and other training interventions need to be redesigned to address learners holistically.

Free To Grow partners with organisations in shaping and sustaining a culture of high engagement and collaboration

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