The Right to Pass

A difficult adult learner: resistant, passive. Thinks activities are a waste of time. Doesn’t really want to be sitting in a classroom with a group of strangers at all. And nothing you try in the class setting works. What do you do?

One of the best guidelines to tell the class at the beginning of a training is the “Right to Pass.” This means that, at any time, any member of the class may choose not to participate in whatever is going on. They can sit quietly and watch the proceedings. They do not have the right to disturb the learning of others, nor make comments about what the others are doing; instead they simple say “I pass.”

Will you ever have a whole group of adult learners using the Right to Pass at the same time? Absolutely not! Most adults enjoy participating in meaningful, relevant activities that are directly tied to the class content. Most adults know that they learn better when a lecture segment is followed by a short, active review of the information just covered.

However, once in awhile, there will be one or two adults in a class of thirty or so, who are really uncomfortable participating in certain activities. They may be resistant for reasons that have nothing to do with you or with the training. They may be deeply introverted and shy about participating. They may be upset about something that occurred before they arrived. Or they may be angry at their boss for making them attend the class. With the Right to Pass, you have given them permission to watch.

Will they still learn some content? Yes. Will they remain passively sitting, without participating, for the whole time? No. Take my word for it: Once they feel comfortable – and because they know they can pass again any time they wish – they will begin to participate. They will see how much fun every one else is having and join in. They will realize that there is no threat to their ego. The activities are low-risk and interesting. There is no reason for them to continue to use the Right to Pass. When they feel comfortable, they will begin to participate in the class activities. And, by the end of the training, they may become your most enthusiastic learners!

2 comments

  • Sharon, thank you for this encouraging advice. It is also a good reminder that the responsibility for learning stays with the learner – so we’re not entertainers who “fail” if somebody chooses to not participate. The “Right to Pass” is one of my favorite tools.

    • So good to hear from you, Rolf! And thank you for the lovely comment – yes, it’s one of my favorite tools, as well. We’ll chat soon – Cheers! Sharon

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