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Wondering how to REALLY improve your teaching game? Scroll to the last article for tips on how to do just that.
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Adult Ed 101: Usefulness
 Remember when you used to wonder - when am I EVER going to need to divide fractions? When are we going to USE this stuff? And then you never got a good answer from your teacher?

Even children know which knowledge is actually useful, and what is not. 
In the Instructional Design world - we refer to this difference as need to know and nice to know. 
Trainers of adult learners need to focus on putting learners into actual situations where they need what you are teaching. 

Start with a story of when and how you use what you are teaching. Creating the "I need to know this" moment in your learner's minds is crucial to maintaining their attention throughout your presentation. Telling them why they need to know it will get them hooked. Going back to that reason throughout your presentation will keep them hooked. 

If you're bored with what you're talking about, your audience is, too. If you find yourself having a dip in your presenter energy, have a discussion break.
Ask learners to discuss their thoughts on a specific question you get asked all the time, then have them share with the group.
This addresses their concerns and lets you adjust your presentation for next time to address those thoughts, misconceptions and questions.
Fill the whole screen with a single image. Make it the background on that slide using the Design tab.  This takes the learner's attention off of your bullets and puts it squarely on you as the expert. 
Find beautiful images that you can use without crediting them at Unsplash.com
Find images you can use with Creative Commons Credits at Flickr.com
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How to Increase the Usefulness of Your Lessons for your Learners

   This research focuses on training communications undergraduate students - so the focus of this summary is not on the research results in this study. It is on the methods they used to collect their data and improve the classes they researched. 
   These researchers had their class complete a series of personal reflections - which they poured over, analyzed and thought were important and groundbreaking enough to publish (spoiler alert: I am one of those researchers. I publish academic work under my maiden name). These reflections were focused on the students' experience of the class, and what they students saw as the most important contributors to their learning. 
How can specific, personal reflections help you? 
  We asked students for more than the typical "smile sheet" feedback that asks how well someone liked a session and whether they think they learned something. When was the last time YOU gave thoughtful, thorough feedback on one of those?... I thought so.
  These reflections were very specific - what activity contributed the most, how did this contribute to your overall connectedness to your profession, what was the point at which you saw yourself shift your perceptions? 
  We also looked deeply into the answers. And we changed the course to include more of what students saw as effective. 
So what does that mean for you? 
  • If you are truly looking to improve your game, you need more information than is provided in a basic smile sheet.
  • Draw up a one-page sheet of questions you have for your learners. Limit it to less than 10 questions.
  • Be specific about what you're looking for from them. Ask only the questions you're truly interested in knowing to improve your game.
  • If you're wondering how your slide deck worked, ask about that. If you're doubtful that your stories are appropriate, ask about that.
  • Communicate verbally that you are interested in improving your presentation. Your learners will give you honest feedback.
People are generous with positive feedback if you are really looking for it. Smile sheets are not designed for that, so you won't get it from those basic feedback forms. Design your own. Look intently at the data you get back. Make changes. The next group you have will thank you.

Leggette, H. R., Jarvis H. (2014). How Students Develop Skill and Identity in an Agricultural Communications Writing Course. Journal of Applied Communications, 99(1). 

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