Teaching adults is a complex task, and when you add the particulars of the health and fitness industry, with its multitude of activities and professional responsibilities, the task becomes even more complex. Overall we are doing a good job as teachers, and as the profession continues to evolve we see more and more education-specific training. However, maybe it’s time to take it up a notch.

Although we can’t be everything to everyone or please all of the people all of the time, we do need to understand how our students learn best. When I look at what factors have contributed to my own success as an educator, I recognize certain key elements that allow me to be effective and successful when teaching the adult learner.

Create a Welcoming Environment
When people feel safe and welcome in a learning environment, they are not only willing but ready and eager to learn. Adults need to feel they can perform their activities in a nonjudgmental setting and that they can have a dialogue with the instructor. Threat of any kind may lead to failure. A relationship that establishes trust is vital and must be built from the beginning.

Most people welcome praise. It is both encouraging and reassuring and allows students to become more confident. Praise can come in many different forms. It may be a direct comment, a smile, a thumbs-up gesture, the wink of an eye or a more general “good job today” type of comment. It doesn’t take much, and it can make a significant impact on someone’s behavior. Positive reinforcement helps you ensure correct or appropriate behavior and should be used often when students are learning a new skill.

Adults need to be motivated to learn but must be interested in learning before they will be motivated. Our challenge is to keep them interested and motivated enough to come back! So how do we do it?

Hold their attention with humor, active participation and storytelling (but not too much). Build interest with variety by mixing it up and inserting the unexpected. Students want to see that you are interested as well—not only in the subject matter, but in them. Help students motivate themselves by showing that your class is valuable and useful. But don’t forget that what is valuable or useful for one person may not be for another. This is one reason you should get to know your students.

Adult learners also need a reason for learning something. They want an explanation behind a procedure, method or principle and want to see the logic of the material presented. Lacking this, they will quickly question or reject what you’re teaching. But more importantly, they want to know that the subject matter or class will help them, and that it is relevant to their life and needs.

Be Prepared and Organized
Adults learn methodically. They expect the instructor to be prepared for class and present material in an organized fashion that follows a logical sequence. This means giving the big picture first, followed by more specific parts; showing what is most important, and then least important; and moving from easier to more difficult. When you present the material in a way that allows people to come to the right conclusion by themselves, they not only learn better but are more likely to retain what they have learned.

For more information, see the full article in the April issue of IDEA Fitness Journal or online in the IDEA Article Archive.

Tell us what you’re doing: What are your favorite teaching tips? How do you make participants successful? E-mail [email protected]. We may publish your comments in a future issue.