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Just recently there has been a lot of focus on getting children back in the classroom after the closure of schools (for most children that is) during the lockdown. The News has been full of scenes of pupils arriving at their school in masks and sitting in desks separated from their classmates. Parents who have been juggling working from home and educating their children can have a well-earned respite.

On watching I wondered how adults would react in a similar situation to the children and this led me to thinking of the differences between teaching adults as opposed to children.

Here are some of the differences that I know about. I’d be interested in your thoughts especially if you think there are more I haven’t spotted

How learning is organised

Children tend to be grouped into classes determined by their age, abilities and levels of understanding whereas Adults sign up voluntarily for learning events which appeal to their interest or need. No ‘sorting hats’ for Adults  as we tend to choose training events that either interest us or meet an unfulfilled need. Arguably some training is not voluntary such as annual mandated training for example Health and Safety although since people are required to complete the training in order to maintain their jobs I would argue that it falls into the ‘need’ category.


Children by virtue of their age have not had the same range of experience as adults and because they have nothing to compare to when a new concept is taught they can find it easier to accept and adopt it. On the other hand Adults look to find links and connections with what they already know. This constant comparison of new information to the exsiting knowledge can act as a barrier to Adults developing new skills and expertise.Trainers of Adults need to allow time for reflection on this ‘comparison and linking’ process and provide reassurance that we are looking to build upon the known rather than decredit their current understanding.


Traditionally at school the Teacher determines the content of the lesson and children passively learn what the Teacher presents to them, in contrast Adults tend to be more active and independent learners and rely less on others to supply them with knowledge. Another difference is that as Adults we are on equal footing with the trainer (and in some case more senior) and prefer to learn in more collaborative style. No one I know is fond of being preached to from on high by a trainer . Furthermore, Adults like to be shown the personal benefit to them in attending the training session (what i refer to as ‘Whats in it for me”) .

End point

Children’s learning has an end point, at some time they will complete their formal education and build a career, In contrast, Adults want to see an immediate use for this knowledge and are likely to consider this to be part of a life-learning process. When I left school, I remember the words of the Deputy Headmaster who said “that’s it my lads no more education for you” – he couldn’t have been more wrong my career has been full of learning activities both inside and outside a formal training setting.

These are a few of the differences I have observed in my training career. Are you looking to train the people in your organisation? Then contact me and we can discuss how I can help