Module 3:

Training community workers and leaders

Using adult education principles

Legal information training is any type of training intended to boost or update people’s knowledge about the legal topics they need information about. Many organizations and legal clinics in Ontario deliver legal information training in their communities to community members or the front-line workers who help them.

When designing a legal information training, it’s important to keep adult education principles in mind. Adults learn differently from youth – without using adult education principles, the people you are training might not get the most out of it.

Here are some things to remember or think about when designing legal information training for adults.

Incorporate principles of adult learning into your work

These six principles of adult learning, paraphrased from the work of Malcolm Knowles and other adult education specialists, can help you focus on how best to present information to the people you are training.

1. Adult learners are motivated and self-directed.

  • They learn most effectively when they have a strong inner motivation, such as a desire for improved personal circumstances, to develop a new skill, or to gain a particular type of knowledge.

    • tip: set up an environment where learners feel safe expressing themselves
    • tip: focus on what is relevant to your participants

2. Adult learners bring life experience and knowledge.

  • They look back to their own experience to find solutions to problems

    • tip: help learners draw on their personal experiences when problem-solving
    • tip: encourage learners to share a story about a past experience or problem that they have encountered

3. Adult learners are goal-oriented.

  • They start with a problem and then work to find a solution.

    • tip: provide case studies based on real-life situations
    • tip: when presenting information, be flexible and responsive to the needs of your learners

4. Adult learners will learn only what they feel they need to learn.

  • They want to know what is relevant to their own situations – “How is this going to help me right now?”

    • tip: be practical and direct
    • tip: provide time for learners to debrief about the experiences they’ve had through the training

5. Adult learners are practical.

  • They need to be able to use these skills immediately so that they see their relevance.

    • tip: ask participants in advance to tell you what is relevant and useful to their work or community

6. Adult learners want guidance and respect.

  • They prefer being presented with options rather than being given instructions.

    • tip: make sure that your tone is not patronizing
    • tip: allow plenty of time for input from the group, and acknowledge their life experiences

Some general teaching tips

Pick the teaching method that will work best with your group.

Adult learners often learn better from a hybrid of training strategies. Many people suggest avoiding lengthy lecture-style presentations without opportunity for discussion.

Consider incorporating two or more teaching methods into your training project, especially if the training is scheduled for more than a couple of hours. If possible, consult with participants in advance to find out what learning strategies might work best for the group you’re training.

Here are some examples of teaching methods you can use for your legal information training projects.

Teaching method Example Tips
Lecture A lawyer provides a summary of how the law affects lower-income tenants
  • tell stories, using real-life examples
  • break the lecture into smaller chunks and provide time for questions and answers throughout
  • provide handouts
Demonstration A teacher demonstrates how a worker might talk with their employer
  • have learners try the skill themselves by practicing with one another
Role play Two teachers or learners act out a scenario where a tenant is trying to speak to their landlord about a problem
  • provide scripts or a scenario in advance if asking students to do a role play
Audiovisual presentation A teacher presents a slideshow or video
  • bring copies of the presentation and handouts for learners to take home
Small group Learners break into small groups to discuss how they would handle a scenario or case study
  • if working with a multi-sector audience, break people into groups to reflect the different strengths and backgrounds of people in the room
Large group Discussion; debate; brainstorming; reporting back on work from smaller groups
  • try to encourage different people to participate by asking what specific people in the audience thought
Participant presentation Learners present on a specific topic (for example, reporting back on work done in a smaller group
  • if people are uncomfortable taking the lead, ask more than one person to present
Flash polls or “on the spot” polls Ask two or three questions to the large group to test their knowledge (for example, “Raise your hand if you think it’s illegal for a tenant to get evicted in winter”)
  • Pick relevant questions – focusing on “urban myths” or things that people might be misinformed about

How to make lectures engaging

If you’re working with an expert such as a lawyer to develop the training, share information on adult education with them at the outset of the project. Many lawyers are used to delivering legal information in a “lecture-style” presentation. This can make learners feel as though there has been too much information to take.

Ask the experts you are working with to break down the lecture into chunks and provide opportunities for other exercises. And give them a guideline for how long they should talk for.

Here are some ways to increase the impact of a lecture.

  • Keep your audience’s attention span in mind. Studies show that the average adult attention span is anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. So, make sure that the most important content comes first.
  • Engage your learners. A good way to promote continued attention is to break up the lecture into segments using activities, some examples of which are given in the table above. The gain in learning will compensate for any reduced lecture time. Examples include brainstorming, problem-solving, and think-pair-share.
  • Check learners’ understanding during the lecture if possible. Schedule question periods. Encourage them to write down their questions and discuss it with their colleague sitting beside them – they can then ask the lecturer to clarify.
  • Use handouts. If your lecturer has prepared materials in advance, prepare hand-outs organizing the information into a written summary containing the lecture’s objectives, key concepts, and questions to consider. This encourages learners to interpret and organize lecture content. If possible, ask your lecturer to provide you with their materials well in advance of the training day.
  • Assign a one-minute paper at the end of class. In this exercise, learners write down what they consider (a) the main point of the class and (b) the main question they still have as they leave. You can use some of these questions to begin future sessions. If you decide to use this technique, make sure to tell the learners at the beginning so that they can prepare and take notes.

Quick tips to engage learners

Here are some easy ways to make your training more engaging:

  • encourage audience participation
  • stop frequently for audience to ask questions
  • bring chocolates and healthy snacks such as granola bars and fruit
  • use humour!