top of page

How adult people learn

I recently completed the elaboration of two self-learning manuals to be used by GIZ in their programme of strengthening civil society organisations (CSOs) in Uganda. It was a home-office task during the corona lock-down in 2020. The self-learning manuals are for CSO-leaders in Uganda, and will also be translated into online trainings.  


When developing this kind of material I am reflecting about how adult people actually learn. It is definitely not during a seminar or workshop. In my long careers as a development worker I have learned that transmission of information that happens at a training very rarely leads to applied knoweldge.  


This is probably no rocket science for a person with a pedagogical education, but for us working with international development, this is worthy to remember. We train a person by transferring information, but what we actually wish is that the new knowledge will be applied. This means the trainee will have to change behaviour or perception based on the new knowledge we gave him.

The problem with this logic is that knowledge is not enough to change behaviour. If you for instance take a smoker, the information that smoking is dangerous to health is not enough to change the person’s behaviour. In the same way, the knowledge about how to govern a CSO transparently is not enough to enable one how to do it. There is a discrepancy between information I have / understand, and the ability to apply knowledge to change my actions.


A person in a workshop also has to learn how to apply the new knowledge he got. This can be done through exercises, reflection, and by planning particular tasks after the workshop. In general it is necessary to shift the focus from teaching to learning. How can we best support the trainees learning process?


As a tool for how to design a learning process, I find the learning cycle very helpful. It exists in various versions and is described with minor divagations by several experts like David Kolb.

It is also called the action – learning cycle, because it focuses on that you through reflection about your actions generate new learning, which you can incorporate in a plan for your next action. Thereafter you again reflect about your action and generate new learning, and so on.

All steps should be included when designing a training manual, alias a learning process. In my opinion a good manual includes the time before and after a training session, as the learning often is generated after a session, when the trainee applies the knowledge into own actions. A good way of facilitating this is giving tasks in between learning sessions, or elaborating an individual plan of action for how to work with the subject afterward. Mentoring and follow up on the plan can be of great benefit also.  

bottom of page