Working as a social media professional is more than community management, strategy, and marketing. Most social media roles entail some aspect of education. This can be anything from educating leadership on the goals and fundamentals of social media to teaching team members about the newest tactics and platforms or working as a trainer in a variety of organizations. Suddenly the strategists and marketers become teachers and the students in front of them are not curious children, but adults with a professional background, knowledge of their own, and opinions on most things. In order to help the adult students understand your information and content, it is good to keep in mind what specific needs and mindsets your learners might bring to the table, very similar to your segmentation during an STP analysis.
Target audience – your “students”
What makes adult learners special when it comes to social media? Range of age.
Firstly, there is a special age frame that should be considered. Looking at the workforce statistics it can be said that the main age of the workforce can be found between the ages of 25 and 64. Knowing the age of your learners gives an indication to the last formal education your learners have experienced, the potential personal social media usage and understanding for the subject, as well as general views of the world and social media.
How to integrate age into teaching social media
Age can be an indicator towards social media usage and understanding. Instead of making assumptions based on age it is good to ask specific questions. It is likely for a person in their late 20s to be a regular social media user, so it would be a good idea to start off with questions of which platforms that person has used so far and what they know about these platforms. If the student is somewhat older, it would be a good starting point to ask how much contact they have had with social media thus far. When you are training people on a regular basis or encounter these situations more often, it can be helpful to design a little questionnaire to start off with.
Age can also help in relating information in terms and comparisons that are close to the general knowledge of that person. References to pop culture are oftentimes very explicit to a specific group or time frame. These references can help in understanding structure and content of social media, but should work for the exact age group you are encountering.
In addition, it can be of high value to learn from your students through their experience. Different stages in life bring a wealth of knowledge, life lessons and views on different topics. Learning from your (older) students can enhance your work and give great insights. When you make the learning experience about your students and their knowledge, this also shows respect, how much you value the person, and it supports the overall learning experience.
Ways of learning
When it comes to teaching adults, one should keep in mind that adult brains function differently than children’s brains. Adult brains are fully developed and have built their own neuronal networks over the years. This can be positive when it comes to connecting new information with previous knowledge. On the other hand, previous experiences can hinder learners in trying new techniques or processes.
How to integrate ways of learning into teaching social media
Get to know your audiences’ style of learning. Ask the person what type of learning they like the most. Are they used to working and learning hands-on? Do they enjoy watching videos and tutorials? Are they more into auditive types of learning? Make the information you are trying to convey as easy to approach and fun to work with as possible. Staying open to different ways of teaching or connecting with your learners helps to get better results from the work. The way you first planned to present your information may not be the best option for that specific group. Plan ahead for some different ways of conveying the message.
In addition, find ways to connect your content with things your learner will already know, e.g. from processes in the company you are working in, hobbies that you share or cultural references that explain what you are saying. This helps to connect the dots and makes it easier to process and remember the new information.
Reasons for learning
When it comes to children or teenage students, all of them have one trait as learners in common: they have to be in school. There is seldom an option of them not getting an education. For adult learners this can be very different.
Adult learners of social media might work with you for a number of reasons: from being sent into a training by their boss to being very curious of the new media and anything in between. This can have a significant impact on the receptiveness of what is being taught. Especially with adults it can be seen that pressure and anxiety prohibit open and effective learning. Freedom of learning and curiosity on the other hand can make for great motivators of the student.
How to integrate reasons for learning into teaching social media
In the beginning of your training or teaching, evaluate reasons why your students and learners are with you. What do they wish to accomplish and how did they get to where you are with them? This can help you find a good approach to their motivation and help in setting expectations for your students and yourself. Management of expectations helps prevent disappointment for both sides and gives a good path to planning content that will take students and trainers on a fun ride together. This can also be a part of the questionnaire mentioned before.
The reasons for learning can furthermore be helpful in planning the information you want to provide. You personally might find specific aspects of social media important and interesting. Your learners on the other hand might have a different focus. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but a good mixture of essentials to know and things that are of interest for your audience will keep them engaged and interested.
Dynamics in the workplace
When looking at children in schools, we often find dynamics in peer groups, that highly influence the emotions during the school day. Adult learners are in a similar situation. When training adults, the learners are oftentimes in a setting of workplace dynamics. These can become a part of the training sessions, depending on the size of the group or the place the training is set up or even the position of yourself as a trainer in the company.
How to integrate dynamics in the workplace into training social media
Dealing with different hierarchies and emotions of adults can be tricky to navigate. Without considering the details, one way to conquer these difficulties can be setting up ground rules of working with your learners. As a trainer, you might usually be in a less powerful position than the person you are supposed to teach, but in this specific setting, you are the expert in the field and you have a specific obligation to fill. You can communicate this, in a friendly and respectful way, with your learner. Let them know what they can expect of you and what you expect of them. That way everyone is on the same page and those dynamics can be (partially) left at the front door.
The trainer – what you can bring to teaching
Once you have a good understanding of your learners and the situation you find yourself in, there are three things you can add to the mix to make teaching your adult learners social media a pleasant and successful adventure.
1. Be empathetic.
Your learners might be afraid of social media or skeptical of the value. This can lead to different anxieties, difficulties in understanding, or a general mistrust of anything connected to the social media realm – even you. Try to stay empathetic to their emotions and help them work past them through a positive learning experience. Validating the emotions can go a long way in the process.
2. Know your worth.
It can be hard to be questioned or to work with superiors, but there is a reason why you are in the position you find yourself in and it is your great work and knowledge, not just dumb luck. The clearer you are on what you can offer your learners, the easier it is for them to trust your judgment and explanations. And if you feel like you could use some extra help with your credentials, a Social Media Strategist certification can help with that.
3. Have fun.
Adult learners are very receptive towards the other persons emotions, since they have enough life experience to tell if someone likes what they are doing or not. Have fun teaching and bringing people closer to social media. This will make for a better learning environment and even if all else fails, you will have a good time with what you are doing.
Author: Magdalena Schürmann
Her passion for organization and solving problems benefits Magdalena’s work as a consultant and in coaching private clients as well as small businesses in diverse areas connected to work life – from job changes to social media marketing. In her business, ArbeitsLeben Magdalena often helps clients to reduce stress and gain more balance through organization and personal and professional coaching. Her goal is to educate, to encourage, and to empower her clients.