Leveraging Adult Learning Theory to improve client meetings

October 18, 2017 by Kyria Branaugh

An client engages with her advisor with technology.

About the author

Kyria Branaugh

Director, learning and support

As director of learning and support at Advicent, Kyria helps to strengthen every partner’s knowledge of Advicent products and implements strategies for adoption and product utilization.

Labor Day has come and passed, temperatures are cooling off, and pumpkin-flavored everything is filling up grocery stores. This can only mean one thing: summer is ending, and with the beginning of fall comes back to school season. With backpacks packed and pencils sharpened, kids across the country are beginning a new academic year.

Even though I work in educating adults, back-to-school season still always gets me excited. With changing of the seasons comes a breath of fresh air, and a renewed focus. I like to use this time to brush up, do some research, and evaluate how we can make our training offerings better.

As I was brushing up on some of the basics of Adult Learning Theory, it occurred to me: whether you are teaching the basics of a software or trying to help clients understand the importance of their financial plan, teaching theories still ring true. Here are a few common aspects of Adult Learning Theory that you can easily apply to have more impactful client meetings.

Motivation is key

A key differentiator between adult and children learners is that adults require much more motivation to learn than children. Typically, adults have finished their formal education and are bombarded daily by new information. As a result, they require a strong and compelling reason to learn and retain new information. When it comes to motivating adults, you may see phrase “What is in it for me?” or “WIIIFM.” This is key to motivating adult learning — helping them understand why this information will improve their lives.

When it comes to applying this to a client meeting, think of it this way: Showing your clients some numbers indicating a shortfall in retirement, and telling them to save more, might not be very impactful. However, explaining to your clients how much better their retirement will be with tangible examples is much more powerful. By helping your clients understand what is in it for them, they will better retain the information and be more responsive to your advice.

Self-directed learning

Another key difference between adult and children learners is that adults have a very strong sense of autonomy. Adult learners would much rather experiment and discover the right answer than to simply be taught. They want learning to be a two-way experience, where their thoughts and input drive the conversation. Keeping this is mind, you can apply this to client meetings by keeping your meetings interactive. Rather than telling your clients what the best solution is to their shortfall, have a conversation with them about what they think is the best solution.

You can use interactive tools in NaviPlan® — like Presentation Module and Scenario Manager — to illustrate some of the possibilities that you and your clients discuss. By including them in these conversations, they feel like they contributed and have stronger confidence in the outcome.

Learning through life experiences

Throughout their lives, adults have experienced many different problems, scenarios, successes, and failures. Each of these experiences impacts and shapes the adult in some way. Whether it is a situation they want to avoid repeating, something they would have liked to handle differently, or a success they want to relive, these experiences primarily drive their learning. When presented with new information, adults typically process what they are hearing, by tying it back to one of those experiences. It gives them something more tangible to think through and helps them better understand and apply the information.

This applies to client meetings because you can leverage this to better help your clients understand what you are explaining. Before you start talking to them about a goal shortfall, ask them if they know anyone who has experienced something similar. Perhaps they know someone who ran out of retirement funds, and had to take a part time job in retirement. Or perhaps they know someone who is still financially crippled by paying back student loans. By helping them tie this to a tangible experience, person, or story, they will better understand the true impact of what you are going to share with them.

Overall these are just a few ideas of how adult learning theory can help you better facilitate client meetings. By better understanding how adults learn and think, you are able to better communicate with your clients, making your meetings and advice more effective.

To learn how Advicent technology can help you engage with clients, click here.