A Formula For Learning

How to apply adult learning theory to quality management training

by Alex Tielker

Training is required and necessary in every organization for four main reasons:

  1. Critical information must be passed on to staff for onboarding and continual improvement activities.
  2. Staff must understand tools and systems, retain the information and apply it effectively.
  3. Staff must help others to fill in knowledge gaps and acclimate them to the current way of working.
  4. Training sets and improves the organization’s culture.

Often, however, training can be painful to sit through. Adults learn differently than children, which is a fundamental principle of adult learning theory. So bombarding adults with information in a long PowerPoint presentation may be ineffective, even if a creative combination of pictures and text is used. This type of presentation should be used sparingly when training adults.

Typically, adults like visual cues, hands-on exercises, working in groups, instant feedback, sharing their experiences and maximizing value-added training time. So how can these elements be incorporated into training? Start with this simple formula:

  1. Begin with a short PowerPoint presentation to capture key points.
  2. Split the class into teams and ask the teams to find relevant information using computers, books or handouts. The exercise could be a crossword puzzle, skit or anything that helps the teams learn and understand the topic.
  3. Have each group share its findings with the other groups.
  4. Encourage jokes and laughter.
  5. Ask individuals to share their experiences, especially those who are knowledgeable.

This formula accomplishes several things that are critical to adult learning. First, it helps staff recognize who has a strong understanding of the topic. This establishes informal learning networks that can be used outside of training when people are back at their desks trying to apply what they learned. Studies show that 75%1 of learning occurs from informal networks of people such as local experts and super-users—not the trainer.

Second, this formula allows staff members to work in teams and share their experiences as well as build new friendships (informal networks). Third, it gets people working directly with the material instead of listening and trying to absorb it. Lastly, this method forces people to learn the material because they must share their findings with everyone else.

No course would be complete without an evaluation form, so ask for feedback. Aim for an average score of at least 8.5/10. Find a facilitator who is knowledgeable and passionate about the topic and can joke and call on people to draw out experiences. Look at the ratio of exercise time to PowerPoint slides, which should be about 1:1. If you have a two-hour training session, for example, a maximum of one hour should be PowerPoint.

Keep presentations short and move them along. Instead of using 30 slides to present every element of the quality manual, use one slide to cover the major sections and have trainees work in teams to research and understand the other sections. Each group then shares what they found with the other teams.

There are many ways to incorporate the fundamentals into a training course—one just has to be creative.


  1. Sian Halliday-Wynes and Francesca Beddie, Informal Learning: At a Glance, National Centre for Vocational Education Research, 2009.


Cross, Jay, “Informal Learning—the Other 80%,” America Learning & Media, https://tinyurl.com/y3pkbzfl.

Knowles, Malcolm, Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice, Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Pant, Mandakini, “12 Participatory Training Methodology and Materials,” pp. 157-172, https://tinyurl.com/y4gerhw3.

WikiBooks, “Learning Theories/Adult Learning Theories,” https://tinyurl.com/y5edvgu4.

Wikipedia, “Informal learning,” https://tinyurl.com/y57ntvwz.

Alex Tielker is a director of quality at Dometic in Vancouver, British Columbia. He earned a degree in applied science in mechanical engineering from the University of British Columbia, and is a senior member of ASQ and an ASQ-certified manager of quality/organizational excellence.

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