Published on 2012/02/15
In my first article, I outlined six major differences between teaching adults in the workplace and in a college setting. They are:

  1. The attendance at class is usually better in college
  2. The classrooms are always better equipped in college
  3. Sessions at work usually involve more discussion and experiential learning
  4. Evaluations are immediate after the workplace training; therefore, the PDCA cycle can be easily implemented for improvement purposes
  5. The transfer of knowledge is easier to assess in the college setting

I tackled the first issue in my first article, and the second and third in last week’s Part 2.

In this article, I will look at the fourth and fifth differences between workplace and classroom learning for adults.

Evaluations are immediate after the workplace training; therefore, the PDCA cycle can be easily implemented for improvement purposes

In the work environment, you have a limited opportunity to make a lasting impression on your class of participants. When sessions only last one or two hours, you really want to inspire the individuals in your session. You want them to go back to their work places enthusiastic, motivated to practice what they learned and share their “treasure” with others so their colleagues will attend the next session. Through the use of evaluations at the end of the session, you receive immediate feedback helping you determine how to strengthen the session in future.

In some cases, you may need to deliver the same session back to back. The evaluations from the first session you delivered could help you refine the course for the second session. Making improvements could be minor; i.e. excluding a video in the second session that did not work well in the first session. Reading evaluations prior to your next session is most beneficial in making improvements and can differentiate a great session from a horrible session.

In college, you receive feedback half way into the duration of the course. It is difficult to the change the learning path six or seven weeks into the session. Some instructors may ask for a check-in within the 3rd week of class, asking participants to help the instructor assess what he or she can do more of, less of, or continue to do to enhance the learning experience. This may not be common practice in higher learning institutions; therefore, instructors do not have the luxury of planning, doing, checking, and acting (PDCA) after each session, they must wait to do this half way into the course or after it ends.

The transfer of knowledge is easier to assess in the college setting

When all promising instructors enter their first adult teaching class, they are made aware of Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierarchical learning matrix designed to help evaluate a learner’s level of understanding. It is the measuring stick that is used to determine the transfer of knowledge from the instructor to the learner.

In a college setting, the most effective medium to assess the transfer of knowledge is the exam. A skilled instructor will write an exam with multiple sections that actually capture all levels of Bloom Taxonomy. The most basic level of knowledge transfer occurs with recognition and definition. The highest level of knowledge transfer occurs when individuals can apply concepts in a real world situation, demonstrating understanding, appropriate application, and an analysis of strengths or weaknesses. In a workplace setting, the transfer of knowledge is less evident. There is usually not enough time to administer an exam, and if the session only lasts 60 or 120 minutes, the depth of knowledge gained cannot be adequately explored. A meaningful assessment of knowledge transfer in the workplace is the use of pre and post-tests. This is one of the most efficient and effective determinants of knowledge transfer however, you are only exploring the basic levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

In work environments, the more common determinant of knowledge transfer is assessed through the Kirkpatrick learning model. There are four levels of assessment in this model, where the highest form of learning results in behavior changes. Behavior change can be difficult for the most dedicated individuals; therefore, the instructor is always encouraged to check in with participants within 30 days of the session to determine what knowledge has been retained and what the participant is doing differently as a result of the class. It sounds easy and a wonderful way to assess the highest level of knowledge transfer; however, it is time that eludes the most committed instructors and the follow up rarely occurs.

Whether teaching at college or in the workplace, the objective does not change. There is an identified need to share information with a group of learners to help them develop either personally or professionally. Each environment has its own share of benefits and disadvantages. If you believe teaching is a vocation, and you except the challenges it brings, then you can instruct in any venue whether it be in a college or a professional work environment.

This is the third in a series of three articles by Loradonna Botter exploring five major differences between teaching adults in the workplace and in a college setting.

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Readers Comments

Yancy Oshita 2012/02/15 at 7:49 am

Concur on the differences, but it would be beneficial to explore the question of why the provision of higher education for non-traditionals in the workplace (71 million in civilian work alone) seems to be falling short of businesses expectations. And what should be done about it to spur systmatic changes…companies are spending billions in the form of tuition assistance, time and resources, but we still have far too many adults w/o bachelors degrees…how can institutions better serve the corporate market with degree/non-degree programs? Thanks for provoking dialogue, Loradonna!

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