| Peace Corps Training and older Volunteers |
The accumulated experiences of the older Volunteer may affect the environment in which s/he learns best. Improving the learning environment is equally applicable to younger Volunteers; the difference may be in the degree to which change is required to enhance learning. The capacity to learn does not decrease with age, but the teaching style and pace may need to be adjusted. The training staff must tailor the learning environment, where possible, to different age groups.
For some, the most important factor contributing to the capacity to learn is the pace. A rapid pace reduces the time for internal organization which is necessary for long term memory. In tests that are not timed, research indicates that older learners are as capable as younger learners to receive, understand, and memorize material.
Make an effort to slow the pace at which the material is presented. Reducing the time of individual and required sessions by providing an increased number of optional sessions may prove effective. Shorter but more frequent breaks, more time for lunch and more individualized instruction should enable everyone to find her/his most effective pace. Private time is also important to absorb the material which has been presented and should be an option during the day for some older trainees.
Relevancy of the Material
Learning must be logical for older trainees, since their ability or willingness to absorb seemingly irrelevant material decreases. The accumulation of experiences have taught the older person that relevancy is a criterion if the material must be learned. As adults, people are less inclined to accept everything which is presented as essential and more inclined to test and determine the usefulness of the materials at some later point. If the goals of the training program are not clear and defined in the beginning, specific material may be lost to the trainee by this sorting process.
When goals are separated into short-term objectives the trainee's capacity to learn usually increases. The short-term objectives may be stated in terms of the anticipated working and living situation or in terms of the training material which follows. Whatever the strategy, trainees must understand that learning specific information benefits them. Material should be presented in logical sequence, from the known to the unknown. Success may be measured in different units of time; an hour, half day, full day, etc. when short, carefully related units of work are presented. Presentation of a central idea, followed by specific examples demonstrating the relationship between the two, will facilitate comprehension. Emphasizing the central theme with visual aids will assist in long-term retention as well as create a focus for organizing materials.
Fear of Failure
Generally, enthusiasm for taking risks diminishes as one grows older; in new learning situations, avoiding failure becomes more important. An older person joining the Peace Corps clearly demonstrates her/his capacity to take risks and seek new experiences. Underlying their motivation, however, may also be the fear of failure.
Training should be designed to reward positive actions, and create an atmosphere of exploration and experimentation. Since individuals generally make some mistakes during a training program, negative feedback should be carefully screened though not eliminated entirely. Trainees should know that taking risks does not imply failure and trainers should provide continuous encouragement and rewards for experimentation in an effort to eliminate the fear factor. Trainers should convey a supportive, warm and understanding attitude toward trainees.
Older trainees come to Peace Corps with extensive experience and are generally better prepared technically for their job assignment. Their self-confidence and competence can be reinforced by providing opportunities for them to discuss and demonstrate their expertise. Additionally experience sharing may be helpful to other trainees and create a more positive approach to risk-taking in other aspects of training.