The Art of Teaching Adults, by Peter Renner, Book, 2005, PFR
Training Associates Ltd., $28.
The Art of Teaching Adults: How to Become an Exceptional Instructor
& Facilitator is the expanded tenth-anniversary edition of The
Instructor's Survival Guide published in 1978. The intent then and
now remains to be a "practical, how to book that must be used to be
useful." In the new re-titled edition, the number of activities has
increased, and the design and layout have changed.
Peter Renner has worked for 30 years in higher education and
corporate classrooms, offering instructional design and facilitation
skills to managers and faculty. In that time, he also found time to
publish several books and complete a doctorate in educational
leadership. Lately, he has launched a new career as an end-of-life
counselor with the alaya institute in San Francisco.
My first thought while browsing the contents of this book was, I
know this! After years of experience, topics like planning a session,
declaring objectives, setting up a room, generating participation,
showing videos, and assessing the course didn't hold much interest
for me--until I sat down and read the book. (Always a good thing if
you're doing a book review!)
The book suggests we ask two questions:
1. What is my approach, defined as underlying biases, preferences,
and values, to teaching?
2. How do I choose the tools in this book to support that approach?
What I liked
Here are the characteristics of the book that I liked the most:
* Page layout. The page layout has two columns. The narrower column
presents quotes, tips, and diagrams, and the other carries the text.
Templates and diagrams are boxed in grey so they stand out.
* Quotes. I love good quotes because they make me think. One quote
by Peter Renner is making me re-evaluate my role as a corporate
educator: "What would happen if in your workshop 'not
knowing' and 'not understanding' were considered
honorable behaviors?" The idea of designing training to arouse
curiosity and use tools to explore possibilities is something I'm
thinking about, as I transition myself into a new work role.
* Audience. This book is written for the adult educator in both
corporate and higher education. Although some chapters are specific to
those who teach in higher ed, you can adapt an idea, a quote, or a
summary to your environment.
* Practical aids. Templates, checklists, and self-assessments are
plentiful, short, and easy to use.
* Tone. The book is written in a conversational style and has an
informal but clear-cut presentation that includes sidebar summaries,
tips, ideas, and questions are asked. Here's one of the questions:
Are icebreakers necessary? Research has an answer.
* Activities. The book has many activities; variations of some of
them are included.
* Terms defined. A glossary of terms removes any doubt about the
meaning of terms used in the text. That's helpful considering the
multiple meanings of training terms.
What I would have liked more of
Here are some things the author can do to improve an already
* Description of activities. I'd like to be able to find
essential information about activities such as the number of people and
the objective more easily.
* Activity matrix. A matrix listing all the activities and their
characteristics (e.g., Active or passive exercise? Instructor- or
learner-led?) and the page numbers where they can be found would make
the book even easier to use.
* Clarity in Chapter 9. This chapter combines questions to be used
with learners and questions about pressing issues adult educators
face--and that makes the chapter a little confusing.
* Estimating training time. The suggestion to try it, time it, and
try it again makes sense. Still, I would like a more precise formula for
calculating the amount of time a training will take--if one exists.
On his website Peter Renner has the following quote: "In the
beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the
expert's there are few" (Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, founder of the
San Francisco Zen Center). It's true. Everything old can be new
again. It's all in how you look at it. The Art of Teaching Adults
can help you look at the topic with fresh eyes.
Review by Mireille Massue
The Art of Teaching Adults
Holds user interest ***
Production quality ***
Value of Content ***
Self-Study Value ***
Instructional Value ***
Value for the money ***
Overall rating ***