Powered by Learning

Increasing Adult Learner Engagement Using K-12 Educational Strategies

April 18, 2022 d'Vinci Interactive Season 2 Episode 32
Powered by Learning
Increasing Adult Learner Engagement Using K-12 Educational Strategies
Show Notes Transcript

Engaging adult learners can start with lessons learned years ago in the classroom. In this Powered by Learning episode, teacher-turned L&D professional Maggie Layfield shares how to use K-12 teaching strategies to engage adult learners, create meaningful assessments, and increase retention.  


Maggie Layfield of NetSupport shared her passion for using K12 learning approaches with adult learners. Her key takeaways include:

  • All students will be in the workforce someday soon. It makes sense we should adopt successful K-12 classroom strategies in the corporate environment.
  • Think back to the best teachers you ever had and some words for them such as caring, patience, passion. These traits connect back to engagement in the classroom and can translate into educating adults. 
  • You can increase employee engagement and performance through modern instructional best practices built on foundations of K-12 learning. 
  • Set the right expectations with learners so they understand what they are learning and why they are learning it. 

Read more:  Using K-12 Teaching Strategies to Boost Employee Engagement

Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide

Susan Cort: [00:00] This is Powered by Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.

Speaker 1: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.

Susan: Hello, and welcome to Powered by Learning. I'm your host Susan Cort. Today I'm joined by d'Vinci president Mason Scuderi, and our guest Maggie Layfield, who is a VP of sales for NetSupport. Net Support is a leading producer of educational and corporate software solutions. Hello, Maggie.

Mason Scuderi: Thanks for joining us, Maggie.

Maggie Layfield: Thanks for having me. [01:00] I'm very excited to be here.

Susan: Maggie, let's start out by telling us a little bit about your role at NetSupport and also your career journey in the L&D Industry.

Maggie: Sure. I started at NetSupport in a sales role several years ago. Before taking what I like to call a little hiatus to work for an educational publishing company, I was asked to return to NetSupport a little over a year ago as the VP of sales and I am certainly very glad that I did. I spend most of my time training and supporting my sales team's efforts, developing content, and also onboarding new staff.

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure how I ended up here. My career really began in the education field as a high school teacher, and I always imagined that's where I'd end up or where I'd die is just being a teacher in the classroom. Me, 10 years ago would not have believed where me 10 years forward was going to be. I really love what I do now because I get to use my experience from the classroom and from that traditional K-12 education sphere to support adult learners [02:00] in the corporate world. Of course, I work for a great company that focuses on ed tech and I incorporate training tools, so it really combines a lot of my experience into one unique thing.

Mason: Well, thanks for sharing more about your background, Maggie. It sounds like quite an amazing journey you've had. To start us off, as we've all navigated workplace implications of an ongoing pandemic, what are some parallels that we can draw between the impacts on K-12 education and the corporate adult learning space?

Maggie: Well, I think one thing to remember is that when the pandemic hit, the single largest industry that was impacted was the education industry. You're talking about over 50 million students, over 130 million employees who were all impacted by this and their day-to-day was instruction, training, all of these different aspects that they were used to in a face-to-face environment. Now they had to completely turn things over on their head and find new ways to be able to adapt to that.

Many of us in the corporate adult learning worlds, [03:00] although we do training and we do content development, we didn't do it at such a grand level as what our K-12 educators do. We saw similar impacts but they saw it on such a grander scale. I think it's important that we can look at what they did and how they transformed their learning experiences and do the same thing for the adult learning environments as well.

Mason: Easy to lose sight of the scale of all the education that's happening in local schools around us. That's great. Why do you think that the adult corporate L&D space should be open to learning from K-12 education?

Maggie: Oh gosh, for many reasons. I could go on about this for a long time, but I think all of us have a favorite teacher. You can all think back to that person who impacted us and it really comes down to their engagement with us. If they were passionate about the topic, it made us passionate. If they cared about us as a person, it made us care about what we were learning about. Knowing how impactful those educators can be, [04:00] makes sense for us to really pull from their bucket of skills and different methodologies and things they've learned and apply those to the corporate learning world.

Also for basically everyone entering the workforce, almost everyone grew up in a K-12 environment. They went through high school, middle school, elementary school, and they were trained as students on how to learn from teachers and how they taught. When you transition to a corporate world to go from all these great educational strategies to just sit in this room and learn something, it's not very effective. It makes more sense that we should adopt the really successful K-12 teaching strategies in the adult learning environment to help transition our former students, now employees and help them to connect with the content and actually get more out of the training experience and professional development we're trying to provide.

Mason: That's a great idea. I can remember the most engaging teacher I had in high school and I think I could get behind the idea of him leading a corporate [05:00] L&D training initiative.

Maggie: It’d be much more entertaining, and I think much more enthusiasm than you get from some other people who are leading those trainings. If you want to bring them in, I'm all behind that as well too.

Susan: All of our listeners, me included, are now thinking about the teachers we had in elementary school, junior high, and high school, and imagining them teaching us as adults; it would make for a good class.

Mason: Agreed. What do you think we have to learn from K-12 education that can improve our adult learning outcomes?

Maggie: There are a lot of best practices in K-12 education that you could really implement in an adult learning environment. One of my favorite ones, which seems very simple, has to do with objectives and outcomes. One of the big mandated things for K-12 teachers is, they have to make it very clear to students exactly what they're learning, why they're learning it, when they're going to be assessed on it. It seems silly, but by knowing that, it helps the students to then invest in the actual process, if they know what they're going to be learning and why they're going to be [06:00] learning it, and why it's going to be relevant or important, they're much more likely to buy into it. No student ever remembered anything from school just because a teacher said, "This is going to be on a test."

That's not very encouraging or motivating for a student. If a teacher can say, "Hey, we're going to be learning this, and as a result you're going to be able to do that and it's going to impact you because later on in the future it might come up in X, Y, and Z environment." Now I'm much more invested. As an adult learner, the same thing is true. Learning it just because it's part of my job, doesn't really motivate me, but if I realize that this training is going to help me be better at my job, which is going to result in maybe better sales or higher commissions or a better achievement of my objectives, then I'm suddenly going to more invest in the actual process. It's really important that anyone involved in training and learning try and outline those objectives and outcomes early, remind them often and be very clear about them so people know what to expect and what they should be getting out of the training so they can evaluate their progress with it. [07:00]

One of the other things, a next level that we don't see a lot, I don't think in the adult learning sphere, but I wish we did, is the collaborative learning. We see this so often in K-12 classrooms where teachers are incorporating different activities where the students are able to engage with one another and learn from one another, rather than just depending on the teacher, force-feeding them knowledge. In a lot of training environments for adults, that's exactly what it is. You sit down, someone lectures, walks through a PowerPoint, you take notes, training is over. We can learn so much from our peers and we can actually engage colleagues and get people more invested in the workplace if they have the opportunity to share what they know and actually be able to collaborate together.

Some really great examples of collaborative learning from the K-12 sphere are things like the jigsaw method, where essentially students are part of one group and that's their home group. They go to an expert group where everyone in that group learns about a specific topic, then they bring it back [08:00] to that home group and then they teach them. That way everyone's a piece of the puzzle. Everyone has an invested part in it, but they're all responsible for their own learning in certain ways. That's something that could work really well in a corporate environment when you're trying to do training on different topics, or if you're doing internal training, even on just things like product knowledge and being able to make individual experts on different aspects of products is very helpful for them owning and feeling more comfortable with the knowledge and then being able to use it to benefit themselves and the company and their role basically overall.

Susan: Maggie, do you see that jigsaw method and that whole collaboration working well virtually as well as in-person? Obviously, people are learning in all different kinds of environments. Do you see it working well in both ways?

Maggie: It does, thankfully, because there's some great tools that are out there. For being able to do this, we see things with Zoom and Teams where you can have breakout groups where you're able to facilitate that similar type of environment of grouping people together. Just not physically, they're just doing it obviously over chat [09:00] or over video versus having to do it together. At a bare minimum, you could even do it via email where the group works together, shares the Google doc, adds our knowledge to it, does a Google chat and comments on things, and then they bring that back together to that initial group and then transfer that knowledge to everybody.

You have to be creative when it comes to the virtual training, but it certainly is something you can facilitate and you actually then increase the engagement because people are working more with their colleagues; they're connecting with people they might not otherwise connect with. It helps to build those relationships, which we really lack in this more remote working environment that we've been in. They're desperate for those connections for knowing their colleagues or feeling that they're part of a team. This gives them the chance to do that.

Mason: Well, those are two great foundational ideas, Maggie, providing clear objectives and collaborative learning. I feel like those can reach the kid and the kid in all of us, right?

Maggie: I agree.

Mason: I know we talk a lot about the importance of continuous learning and providing opportunities to support learners [10:00] after the primary training is complete. What are your thoughts, and what are some insights from K-12 education that can support continuous learning?

Maggie: One of the big elements of K-12 is the idea of scaffolding. You take knowledge that you've learned, you build upon it, it grows over time. If you don't go back to those things you've previously learned and bring them up again, you're likely to forget them, and then when you need them for something bigger, you don't have that there. So you're missing that step and it makes it harder for you to move forward.

There are a lot of great tools that are available now that had been transformed to adult learning environments that help with that scaffolding. One of my favorite things is LMS platforms, which is a learning management system, something very common to K-12, where teachers are able to put their content, their lessons, other information into the LMS, and students can go back to it and go through it at their own pace. Now you have tools like that for adult learners and adult training environments. We see those being implemented, where then learners can go back through, and you could take [11:00] what was a training, transform it into an LMS learning objective, or a lesson. Then they are able to go back to it and go through it at their own pace, their own time, and relearn that information or reference it if they didn't quite grasp everything at the time.

Another great thing is, we get all the time, graphic organizers or even something as silly as informational scavenger hunts. We did those all the time as kids growing up, and it was a fun way to put the information together. How often do you see a training and development leader pass out a really nice graphic organizer? Usually, it's you bring your own note, but you take your own notes, and that's basically it. By providing those tools, you give that outline, you show how things are supposed to be organized. Again, is just another way to engage the learners and something they can reference later.

One of my favorite things that we do here is a scavenger hunt. We do it by products because I trained the sales team, and their job during the training process is to complete the scavenger hunt by going to different websites, internal [12:00] resources, documents, to find the information. At the time, it teaches them more about where those documents are located, and also what they can find in each document, but then they have this house sheet of information with key-selling points, features, benefits that they can refer back to when they're talking about the product as they're still developing their knowledge and their skills when they're getting started working with customers.

By far, it's one of my favorite things, because I get told all the time, people are still referencing the scavenger hunt sheet when they're having a conversation with a customer, because it has all the key little things on there that they're going to need to do their job successfully.

Susan: Oh, no, it's definitely something memorable for sure.

Maggie: It's certainly not your average training technique, but it goes over pretty well.

Mason: Reinforcing what you've learned across multiple touch points is so valuable to retention.

Maggie: 100%. I think we forget about that, we assume that adult learners are going to sit in on the training process, here with disseminate the information, "Okay, you're good." You can't do that [13:00] because there's so much for people to learn these days that you have to have opportunities to go back to it, to touch on it, to reiterate that knowledge, or else, it's just going to go in one ear and out the other and you've wasted both of your time being part of that training if there's not going to be continued learning afterwards to reinforce what you've been trying to get across to them.

Mason: There's no doubt we're all more interested than ever and measuring learning outcomes and the data that comes from that. What are some insights from K-12 education in this regard?

Maggie: Well, as you probably remember from being in school, K-12 educators are real big experts in assessing learning outcomes, because that's what their entire job depends on, is students successfully being able to obviously retain and transfer that knowledge and carry on. Too often, we tend to, as adult learners and adult trainers, we depend on formalized assessment and evaluation. You've got your annual reviews, you have performance evaluations, you have this very strict layout of measuring how someone is [14:00] doing, but if we wait until those things happen, we are missing out on really key opportunities to track our employees' progress along the way to help them and fill in those gaps before something becomes a problem, and obviously intervene and improve their performance and knowledge. As we do that, it improves the company as a whole. It helps us reach our mission or hit our goals or whatever our targets might be.

One of the key strategies in K-12 education is informal assessment. This just basically means opportunities to gauge learning without it being threatening to the learners. You put a quiz in front of them, that's a little threatening. They feel like "Oh, if I do awful on this, I'm going to be judged, or I'm not going to get a raise next year." It starts to put a lot of stress on them. Something as simple as things like exit slips, it's predefined questions that you've written out as part of the training process, just to ask for their opinion, but you can also then glean knowledge about what they learned and what they didn't learn.


We like things like the 3-2-1 exit slips. You do things like, what are three things you learned today that you didn't know before? What are two things you think we should have gone in more depth on? What is one question you still have? It's very simple, but by doing that, you see, there are three key takeaways. You can start seeing trends between learners as to what they picked up on and what they didn't. If you ask them about two things you wish you'd done more on, now you know what you might need to do follow-up training on or more enhanced training.

The one question they still had is a very non-threatening way to find out, "Did I do a good enough job, or are there other things I should have covered, or should I have gone in more depth on something?" Again, they don't feel threatened, because they don't feel like this is somehow going to be an assessment of them, they're technically assessing you as a trainer. It's a lot easier to assess someone else than it is to have to deal with an assessment yourself.

Other things we can do are things like what we call demonstration stations. In an ideal world where we're all physically together, you would have little almost centers, that's what [16:00] they call them in my kids' preschool, centers where they get to do activities, and the teacher can monitor them, but from afar, so that there's no pressure of someone being watched.

From a corporate training perspective, if you have these opportunities for people to work on the skills that they've learned, again, without being assessed, or graded, or feeling like they're being evaluated, then you can observe quietly, monitor what's happening, and then obviously intervene or provide correction in a much gentler way to be able to help with that learning process.

In like a virtual environment, like a lot of us are in now, there are actually some really great classroom management tools that are out there. We happen to provide one of them, but there are lots of them that are out there, where it's an instructional tool that allows the teacher to see what's happening on the learners' screens, and can follow along with them. We have a lot of corporate customers who use that for their training; they actually will conduct external or even internal trainings.

As they're going through that, rather than just like with Zoom, [17:00] where you can see someone's faces, if they happen to share their camera with you, which is about 50/50 - shall I be honest here? - then you're actually seeing what they're doing, and you're silently watching and you can provide that feedback as if they were right there in front of you learning that skill, but it's done in a much more informal and less aggressive way. There's a lot of really awesome tools that teachers use that we can actually be integrating into our training with adult learners as well.

Mason: No doubt that assessments are a delicate subject for students and adult learners, but there's no denying the value of learning data within your organization to drive insights.

Maggie: Absolutely. We can't stave off a better kind of avoid it just because we're afraid of how people might respond to it. I think we do it more informally more often, then it becomes more natural, and people are less afraid of it, especially if we don't call it assessments. That's why things like exit slips, skills checklists are much less terrifying for an adult learner than quiz, [18:00] test, brutal evaluation, no one likes to hear any of those words first thing in the morning, and then they go, "Oh, this is a bad day."

Mason: Oh, great stuff. Before you leave us, Maggie, talk a little bit about what's next for you and your personal journey, and as an ed tech sales leader?

Maggie: Gosh. As I mentioned before, I never expected to really be where I am today. I'm very pleasantly surprised by where I am and happy that I ended up here. I think a lot of us say, you grow up with a very limited view of what is out there for you because you only have what was in front of you. For me, I was passionate about education. I'm passionate about training and seeing people, the aha moments when they discover and they understand something they didn't understand before. That always looked like to me K-12, or college, that learning environment.

Now that I'm in the corporate sphere, and I can see those same things happening, but with my employees and with my colleagues [19:00]  and being able to do that, it really just increases the passion in me in taking what I learned from my experience as an educator and bringing it to the L&D world for adult learners. I'm really excited to hopefully over the next couple of years, develop my skills, be able to do more for my team, but then possibly also help influence others with their L&D journeys and provide training and opportunities for them to understand that things don't have to be in the little box that we've always done them in and we can do things in a new and unique way that's going to challenge and engage people and make the learning and training experience much more fun.

We always forget about fun as adults, and fun is really important. Why are we not having fun as adults? Jobs should be fun, careers should be fun. I really want to focus on trying to do that, bringing those engaging elements into what normally is a more formalized experience and making it something people actually enjoy and can get more out of.

Susan: We certainly had fun talking [20:00] talking with you, Maggie. Thank you so much.

Mason: Yes, it all sounds great. Very inspired.

Maggie: Thanks guys. I appreciate the chance to talk about it. It's not too often I get to nerd out on my education background and all the wonderful things that you can do as a teacher. Any opportunity to chat is good.

Susan: It was great. Thank you for sharing your passion and those lessons learned from K-12 education, so important that we all think about that as we look to educate adults. Thank you, Maggie for joining us today. Mason, that was a really fun and inspirational chat with Maggie. What are your key takeaways?

Mason: Yes, that was an exciting interview, Susan. It's a refreshing thought to consider insights from K-12 education. Maggie took us back to basics with the K-12 instructional best practices of providing clear objectives and outcomes upfront, and looking for opportunities to provide collaborative learning in the workspace. I also liked how Maggie provided suggestions for making assessments less threatening and more engaging to users, [21:00]  taking some of the pressure off by providing informal assessments, such as knowledge checks and pretests. All in, it was a great reminder that successful adult learning technology should in some way be capable of reaching the kid and all of us. I think that's a great strategy to engage and educate any target audience.

Susan: That's great, Mason. Anything new at d'Vinci that you'd like to share?

Mason: Well, Susan, since we're talking about K-12, one of d'Vinci's K-12 focus clients is SAE International. We recently launched an award winning project for their World In Motion program, called Navigating the Digital Universe. Navigating the Digital Universe is an online digital curriculum to teach elementary school children about their rights and responsibilities of being a digital citizen. The program has a blend of hands-on and digital activities. Students learn how to engage with technology in the digital world in a positive and responsible way. There's even a trusted robot sidekick named Maze, who helps kids explore five planets to learn the importance of digital safety, [22:00] communication, literacy, and ethics.

Susan: I think as we learn today, we might learn something from Navigating the Digital Universe, that will help us as we educate adult learners too.

Mason: I like the blend.

Susan: Me too. Thanks, Mason. Many thanks to Maggie Layfield for joining us today. If you have any questions about what we talked about, you can reach out to us on d'Vinci social channels through our web site, dvinci.com, or by emailing us at poweredbylearning@dvinci.com.

Speaker 1: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.