Overcoming 9 Common Barriers to Learning

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You have your outline … your presentation … your goals … your supporting material. You’re ready to provide a successful day of training. But are your learners ready? Nothing can sabotage a great day of training faster than learners’ own barriers.

In fact, those barriers can lead to disgruntled learners … low to no participation … and negativity. And one bad attitude can spread like a virus. You can prevent potential problems and challenges. See how todays trainers overcome the nine common barriers to learning.

1. Barrier: Independence

It is critical to respect your participants’ experiences and accomplishments.

Independence isn’t something adults take for granted. It is something they’re proud of and they don’t appreciate it being undermined. Don’t talk down to your participants or treat them as children. Make room for a lot of participation and insist they accept responsibility for their own learning.

2. Barrier: Negative Feelings About Training/Learning

Encourage learning by avoiding situations that “test” your learner or situations that have a risk of failure. For some adults, school wasn’t a positive experience. You may find yourself working with people who become hostile or upset either because they believe they aren’t good learners or because they think they’re being tested – especially when they’re in a group of their peers.

3. Barrier: Preoccupations and Mental Distractions

Help your participants relax and get them focused on what you want them to think about.

When adults attend a training session they bring a lot of things with them. Tension, anxiety, and problems are just a few. You have to begin working on this right away. Have relaxing music playing when they walk through the door. Grab their attention with an eye-catching graphic or a slide on a screen at the front of the room. Greet them warmly and make them feel welcome.

When they walk in the door, give them a card with a funny quip or an observation appropriate to your topic or a question they can respond to in an unusual way that brings out a personal experience as a trainer.

 4. Barrier: Resistance to Change

Sometimes attitudes have to change before permanent learning can take place. The only way to persuade people to make such basic changes is to show them that the new ways of behaving are more productive than the old. When they see the results, their attitudes will change. Design your course to allow people to explore and discover the benefits of the new strategies you’re asking them to learn.

5. Barrier: Selective Filters

Adults only pay attention to what is relevant, interesting, or stimulating to them.

We all receive information through the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, but we also have a filtering mechanism that allows us to screen out things that are distressing or unpleasant or just boring. It is quite possible to sit through a training session and not hear a word. It’s important to offer a variety of ways to consume training – from multimedia to case studies to note taking. Your audience needs variety and the change-up helps keep their attention and keep them focused.

6. Barrier: Unclear Motivators

The best training sessions satisfy learners’ needs, solve their problems and can be used immediately in the work place.

Most adults attend courses because they have a specific need or want to solve a specific problem. Often what they want is something that will make them more effective in their job. Make sure you tell your audience what’s in it for them. Tell them what they’re going to learn and how it will help them at work.

7. Barrier: Fear of Participation

Even people who normally enjoy socializing are inclined to get cold feet when it comes to taking part in learning activities. This is due to the risk involved in exposing a weakness or revealing a fault. However, if you don’t participate, you probably won’t learn much. The wise trainer creates an atmosphere that keeps anxiety levels as low as possible. They make no judgments, make positive comments to reinforce desired behavior, and only offer constructive criticism.

8. Barriers: Strongly Established Habits and Tastes

Change becomes possible if we feel safe and secure. Many people become disturbed or confused if things change too quickly. Their habits and tastes are solidly established, so if anybody tries to push them into radical change, they resist. As the person in charge of education and training, you’re in the business of causing change. It’s important to think about how to introduce new learning concepts without producing hostility and resistance. The learning climate is always important. Keep it cool and make sure the winds of change are soft and gentle – that’s when learning happens.

9. Barrier: Fear of Failure

Place the emphasis on personal improvement. Many adult learners are uncertain about themselves. They often feel they are certain to fail and sometimes doubt their ability to complete the tasks involved in a course. You must be certain that everything is explained to the participants and that objectives are clearly stated. The participants should realize that they will set their own standards. You should always let them know if there will be a formal test following the training.


  1. A really great piece of reading! I am doing a PowerPoint presentation for an interview on the barriers to learning and this has helped me no end! Simple and easy to understand without too much in depth content Thank you!

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