By: Rachel Luoma, CAE
Recently, John Ricco, MPA, CAE, and I had the pleasure of speaking at Building Better Boards – an annual training seminar designed by Leadership Tallahassee for novice & veteran not-for-profit board members & staff about board orientations.
One of the key areas that we discussed was the importance of incorporating principles of adult learning into the orientation process.
Why Adult Learning?
Adults learn very differently than children do. The concept of andragogy, or adult learning, was introduced by Malcolm Knowles and is summarized very well at http://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles. Key concepts include the following principles:
- Adults have a strong desire to be engaged in the planning and evaluating of their education.
- Adults bring considerable experience and this experience (including mistakes) enhances learning.
- Adults have a stronger interest in learning about matters that have relevance in their life.
- Adult learning is typically centered around a specific problem or challenge instead of being nebulous.
- Adults are typically responsible for their own learning.
What Does this Mean?
Well, I am glad you asked as that is an important part in the adult learning process.
This means that the typical lecture style, pre-set, inflexible curriculum is going to be less effective with adults than it is with children. Adults need a different type of instructional design in order to have an effective learning experience.
Adults are self-directed learners and require less structure and oversight than younger learners. Additionally, because adults bring their own experiences and preconceived notions, often times, adults use critical thinking to challenge information. Adults are skeptical whereas younger learners often accept information as true.
Adult education has to have a readily apparent application for the learner to engage. Meaning, you have to be able to tie your board orientation process to something that has value for the board member. Why do they need to learn these things? What are the implications if they don’t?
Bottom line is that adults need to engage, they need to experience and most of all, they need to see value.
Use some of the information above and think about incorporating some of the key principles into your board orientations. Ideas may include:
- Ask your new board members what experience they have to assess existing knowledge and focus your orientation on filling in the knowledge gaps.
- Ask your new board members how they prefer to learn. Do they want all the information emailed? Do they want it printed? Do they prefer a phone call or an in-person meeting?
- Create fun or different opportunities for learning with the information you are presenting. Some ideas include a scavenger hunt, a crossword puzzle, a trivia game, etc.
- Incorporate some team building or other trust building activities into the process. Ice breakers are a great way to get everyone engaged.
- Create a competition. I don’t know about your office, but our office loves a good competition. Break board members into teams and assign them activities and challenges. Bragging rights alone may be enough, but if not, prizes work too.
- Include an evaluation process as part of your board orientation. Have current board members assess their orientation and use that information to modify the process. Feel free to use How Does Your Board Orientation Stack Up to get you started.
- Be willing to try something new and don’t be afraid to fail. As you can see, mistakes are an important part of the adult learning process.
By incorporating some of these key principles into your board orientation, you can create a more meaningful onboarding process and set your board members, your staff and your organization up for success.