When the Adult Educator Meets Resistance

Posted on November 12, 2019
When the Adult Educator Meets Resistance

Adult educators usually enjoy the benefit of self-motivated students, but that is not always the case.

An employer-mandated training or development program can be an instructor’s nightmare, with resistant and even hostile students.

There are many reasons why programs are required by employers. Sales teams can improve results by learning negotiation techniques. New computer software means office personnel must be trained to use new systems. Sometimes sensitivity training towards minority groups, disabled people or female staff is needed.

Why would a compulsory training program be met with acrimony? It’s not just the fault of employees. While being hugely beneficial in many cases, “more training” is not always the answer. There are other kinds of performance support that might be better. Sometimes assigning more training is just a fall-back position of management and administrators, who are not addressing deeper problems with policy and executive decision-making. From the worker perspective it’s the employer saying, “it’s not me, it’s you”.

Educational trainers can’t change organizational culture or solve employee relation problems. So, what is the best approach when an instructor feels more like a hostage taker? Whether they are teaching in-class or developing online training materials, techniques can be employed to create an effective learning experience under adverse conditions.

The instructor should lay out initial information up front, such as how long the program will take, its objectives and what is expected of participants. They need to link the program to real-life benefits, such as more sales or less workplace stress.

Using “microlearning” principles, program information is divided up into small, digestible chunks. When information is organized in groups, either arbitrarily or in ways that show patterns, it is easier for people to understand and remember it. Visual cues such as charts and illustrative diagrams, are also effective.

Cognitive-load theory, or the amount of information that the human brain can process at one time, is just one principle of learning that adult educators can apply in challenging teaching situations.


The topic of this article is derived from the curriculum for the Schulich ExecEd program Masters Certificate in Adult Training and Development (Starts Jan. 29, 2020). This program is designed to provide both leading-edge research and practical experience in teaching and training adults in the workplace.