The pitfalls of adult learning

By Bob Hughes

I am currently learning advanced driving . Not solely driven by my interest in driving, I must confess that a gentle nudge from a driver awareness course, was part of the reason why I started it.

Now, I’m really enjoying it and I would heartily recommend it to anyone. (Go for RoaDAR  if you do want to do one too.)

It's apparent, however, that I'm going through some of the challenges that face all adult learners.


My instructor is great - an expert driver who volunteers his time for free to take people like me out for a couple of hours and help improve the driving.

His style is fine, a good mix of encouragement and pointing out places to improve.

My problem is having my mistakes pointed out to me.

I’ve been trying to work out why.

I just feel stupid. I’m an adult and hence surely I should know everything??

  • I find myself arguing back, justifying why I chose the gear I did, or why the speed really was right.
  • It reminds me how important it is to get feedback right. To create a supportive environment
  • And I’m also going through that phase of conscious incompetence.

I’m trying to change the way I approach roundabouts, getting the deceleration, the speed, the gear and the steering all just right.

Of course, I’ve been doing this unconsciously for years, but bringing awareness back to the surface and trying to adjust means of course I’m now getting it wrong more often.

At a recent leadership course we talked about this kind of adult learning.

I love running them because of the quality and calibre of the people who choose to attend. It means I always learn something every time I run a course.

We talked about how our clients, when they first meet us, almost always ask questions about what our ‘pedagogy’ is.

The first time we were asked this I had to go look it up and check. What they wanted to know was the details of our teaching methods.

“Ah” said our course participant, “do you know what the real meaning of the word is?”

What it literally means is “to lead the child”.

So actually it’s not about adult learning at all. And the mistake we make is to assume that adults learn in the same way as children do. (There’s a whole debate to be had here about the best way to teach children, but I’ll save that for another blog!)

The point for me is to remember that adults learn differently from when we were children.

And we all learn differently from each other.

At the Dental Coaching Academy, our philosophy is built around a strengths based approach to learning. Build on what we already have, rather than try to add things in we never had.

It’s also based on promoting self discovery.   We're really thrilled to have launched our 50 hours of verifiable online learning for the Dental Team at the British Dental Association conference.  It's a great way to build self-confidence around topics like

  • leadership adult learning - car on roundabout
  • coaching
  • communications
  • mentoring
  • reflective practice

All I have to do now is find out how to coach myself whilst my gremlin is shouting in my ear and I’m ploughing through the daffodils in the middle of the roundabout...