Posted on Jul. 22, 2021 by TJ Alioto

As law enforcement instructors, we take a great amount of pride in what we do. We spend countless hours researching our topics, practicing our techniques and making sure we are giving the latest and best advice available. People’s lives and careers count on us teaching as best we can. But, is everyone learning what we are teaching? Just because you’ve created an amazing PowerPoint and demonstrated the techniques to perfection doesn’t mean that your students are actually retaining what you’re trying to teach.

As adults, we don’t learn the same way as we did when we were younger. Not only do we choose additional learning (unlike a child who must be told they have to go to school), but we are able to see how what’s being taught can apply to our lives. We also don’t just “magically absorb” knowledge as we hear it from our instructors. It has to be presented in a way that our brains can attach it to how we might apply the knowledge at work or at home.

Here are a number of things you should consider when instructing your adult students:

Get Them Out of Their Seats

Sitting around in a classroom for hours on end will result in tired and distracted students not retaining much of anything. Presenting with short bursts of information, followed up with some hands-on practicing is a great way for them to absorb the material. For example, you could teach a proper draw, and then move the students into a VirTra training simulator to practice the draw on a virtual range. Not only does this help embed the training, it also motivates the student to learn more, as well as make the learning fun!

Show Why It’s Important

When you were a child, adults would tell you something and you would (usually) just accept it. Occasionally, you might ask “why?”, and I’m sure that was countered immediately with a “Because I said so.” That doesn’t really work with adults.

Your students will want to know how the information you’re presenting will directly affect them in their everyday lives. In law enforcement training, we generally show ways to make them safer and more effective while performing their duties. Explain to them how what you are teaching will accomplish that. It’s even better when you explain it, and then combine it with getting them out of their seats.

Don’t Grade Them

Instead of traditional school-style grading, there are other ways to determine understanding of a new subject.

Class discussions and group activities are a great way to show that learning has occurred. It also removes the fear from students of being singled out for a lack of understanding.

A fun an interactive way to show learning is through skill demonstrations. This can be accomplished through hands-on activities showing proper techniques. It can also be done within a simulator such as going through a scenario that’s related to the topic.

Teaching adults doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to make sure you’re using the right tools for the job. Trainers really do want to train, and students really want to learn. Adjusting our presentation style can mean all the difference.

Stay safe!




ProEdit. (2013, June 5). 5 Adult Learning Techniques to Improve Your Training Programs. Retrieved from ProEdit:


This article was written by TJ Alioto, VirTra’s Subject Matter Expert. TJ spent 20 years in law enforcement with the Wauwatosa Police Department, having reached the rank of Lieutenant prior to retiring in 2017. Now, as an SME, TJ uses his experience in designing and presenting coursework and curriculum for police officers to continue to pass along essential skills to new officers.

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